I Am Walter Mitty (aka: Life is But a Dream)

I am Walter Mitty. Okay, obviously not really. I mean for starters, I’m a woman, and I don’t work at Life Magazine. But that’s not the point. I just went to see the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I’d been looking forward to seeing it since I first saw the movie trailer a few weeks ago. It did not disappoint. 
Walter Mitty running

In the film, Ben Stiller plays a middle-aged man named Walter Mitty, who lives a small and not very interesting life. He is a daydreamer who often escapes into a world of fantasy and adventure in his own mind, though in real life, he is quiet and somewhat invisible, living an ordinary life void of adventure or romance.

The very first thing that struck me as the movie began was the symbolism, as Walter is so busy daydreaming that he does not see his train rushing by until it is too late, and he has missed it. This is a pattern for Walter, who often lets the real life and love slip away, because he is lost in his fantasies instead of being in the moment. 

Walter Mitty lost in a daydream

Walter Mitty lost in a daydream

But luckily for him, an opportunity comes his way to have a real adventure. All he has to do is get on train (or the plane, or the helicopter, or the ship, etc.).Naturally, I saw myself in Walter Mitty. I am an invisible person, living a quiet and dull life, just raising my children and trying to keep my head above water. I am too timid to make friends, and as for real romantic relationships – well, those are totally out of the question. But I, like Walter Mitty, live through a very rich imagination. When I lie in bed, wrapped in blankets and reading a good book, my imaginary partner is by my side, reading his own book and occasionally sharing the good parts, as our feet rub together. And when I out am shopping for clothes, my imaginary best friend is with me, telling me not to buy that sweater, because the color is awful on me. And when I took myself to the movies today, I was sitting with my group of imaginary friends, who were cracking jokes and laughing until the lights dimmed, and we all shared popcorn and diet Cokes as we rooted for Walter Mitty through his real and imagined adventures. 

Walter Mitty jumps on the helicopter

Walter Mitty jumps on the helicopter.

So yes, I am Walter Mitty. But he had more courage than I can even imagine. When he was presented with the opportunity to convert his dreams into reality, he faced his fears. He got on the plane. He jumped on the helicopter. He went to places he had only ever dreamed of. He learned to live in the moment, and to make his reality even better than the fantasy. And I wondered, is this only the illusion of fiction, or could someone like me do something like that? Will life always be just like this, with me hiding from the real world like a timid little mouse in her burrow? Or, should the opportunity arise, will I be able to find the inner strength and courage to jump on the helicopter?


68 responses to “I Am Walter Mitty (aka: Life is But a Dream)

  1. Another wonderful post, touching in its honesty. I recently read Joyas Voladoras and it reminds me of this, and this post reminds me of that. They both seem to me to have an elemental expressive quality, something fundamental. And both inspire me to write.

    Perhaps the act of writing so expressively is indicative of underlying courage.

    • Thank you. To me, the very idea that I could write something that stirs something in another person is the thing that encourages me to write. And perhaps you are right, that I do have some hidden well of courage deep within, and it is through writing that I allow that courage to bubble to the surface. Now if only I could find a way to channel it to other areas of life…

      Naturally, I went right over to read Joyas Voladores. What a beautifully written essay! To read the descriptions of “violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars…” was like savoring a fine caramel, turning the words over and over in my imagination to make them last. And yet, the message was not lost in the expression. The heart is such a fascinating thing — beautiful, tough, intricate, and yet so easily scarred and broken in us humans. I know too well. If only the heart of a human was as simple and straightforward as the chambered room of a blue whale or the dizzying speed of the hummingbird’s heart. But it is not, for the experiences that break our heart can so quickly rob us of the courage and strength it takes to continue seeking the very things our hearts need to be their healthiest.

      • I’m so glad you enjoyed Joyas Voladores – even the title of the essay is great!

        I think raising kids well also takes a fair amount of courage, and then it also takes courage to maintain one’s own standards of excellence in our media-saturated society, where everything is supposed to be so easy, and gratification appears (deceptively) to be instant yet remains unsatisfying. We’re bombarded with materialistic things (nice stuff as well as junk) but at the end of the day those materialstic things are an extremely poor substitute for finding meaning in one’s own life and work. In this sea of materialistic prosperity, beauty, truth, simplicity and wisdom seem undervalued.

        It also seems that many people find it easier to settle into a comfortable life of mediocrity, than to hold onto their own dreams and standards. But that’s so hollow!

        When the right opportunity arises I believe you will have the requisite strength, honesty and courage to do whatever needs to be done.

        And it’s a remarkable acheivement that you find time to write in the midst of work, parenting, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, coordinating kids’ activities, etc. – that speaks to competence and perhaps a certain mental toughness and persistence.

        By the way, did you know that INTJ is reputedly one of the rarest personality types – perhaps as low as 1-3% of females and 2-6% of males (although I doubt the exact accuracy of those quantitative assessements)?

      • Yes, I read about the statistics of the INTJ. 😀 Now why am I unsurprised by the rarity?

        Ah, finding meaning in one’s life and work – that is my current struggle, as I feel unsettled when I fail to find the meaning in that which I do. But maybe that is too deep a topic for such a beautiful day (because here where I live, the sky is clear and the sun is shining like a jewel, and perhaps a bike ride is just the thing…)

        Maybe for many people, the comfortable life of mediocrity is what makes them the most content. Perhaps it is like slipping into a deep, dreamless sleep, and then waking up refreshed, as opposed to a restless night of endless dreaming and a morning that arrives too soon. Maybe not everyone feels the need to find a deeper meaning for the work they do, for it is enough for them to serve themselves and feed themselves. But I need more. I am not content to stuff myself with knowledge and goodness and beauty without finding some way to capture it and share it with another. For what purpose do my actions serve? Is it to make my children better adults one day? Is it to lift up the spirits of someone else? Is it to inspire, to bless, to feed another person? That is what makes it worthwhile.

        Now for that bike ride…

      • It seems like some people don’t even want to learn. They don’t seem interested in absorbing knowledge, wisdom, goodness and beauty, reading and expanding their horizons, let alone applying the principles they learn in the world and multiplying the positive effects through their good efforts. They seem content to passively absorb entertainment. But there I go, that’s the “J” part of my personality judging them.

        The skies are blue here as well, and the sun is also shining like a jewel – it’s a perfectly gorgeous day, ideal for a soccer game or a bike ride or even a nice walk. Unfortunately, “here” is Dallas, and I am reminded of the sad string of mistakes I’ve made, which have led me to be sitting in an office on a day like today, turning myself into veal, doing mind-numbingly dull work (although the fields are almost dry enough to play soccer at lunch – woo-hoo!). And I’m also reminded why I’ve felt unsettled for these past several years, and likely will continue to feel unsettled until I find meaning again in my work (and play), and I’m actually learning again, and I build a more sustainable life for myself. You see, I used to live in San Francisco, where I surfed and remodeled houses. I surfed up and down the coast with my brothers, North to Oregon and South to Baja Norte, and it was glorious. I also worked in a bicycle shop and regularly went over to Downieville, North of Sacramento, to go mountain biking, and during the summer went with my brothers to the foothills of the Sierra, to Sonora Pass and the Stanislaus River at Knights Ferry, to visit the beautiful rolling sun-drenched hills covered in oak trees.

        In retrospect I had a very fine life, but somehow I wasn’t content. Perhaps my perfectionism or high standards prompted me to seek more. I felt I wasn’t living up to my intellectual potential. I felt I should be doing more with my life. And not having developed an entirely clear vision for how I’d like to build my life, but feeling a need to do something that seemed productive, I went to law school. And although law school itself was quite enjoyable – the only work really is reading, and occasionally writing to synthesize what you’ve read – for me it was a monumental mistake.

        But then the reality of $120,000 in student debt struck like a mighty sledge hammer, and so I accepted a high-paying job at a big law firm in Dallas (which is about the least suitable job that anyone could imagine for me – just think of the happy hours, recruiting events and business development lunches I was forced to attend!). And I have been sitting in an office ever since, doing, as I mentioned, mind-numbingly dull work on financial transactions, although I recently changed jobs to a much more humane and supportive environment at a quasi-government bank. And while I now do get to do slightly more interesting work, reading and understanding mortgage regulations, on the whole it’s still an occupation that does not provide me with hardly any meaning or satisfaction or intellectual stimulation, nor does it align with my values. Also, the writing I have to read is so awful aesthetically that it’s difficult for me to focus, and the writing I have to write is similarly painful. Consider this sentence: “With regard to the transaction coverage rate (TCR), the Bureau stated its belief that the potential compliance burden associated with the two-calculation requirement would be mitigated by the fact that both TCR and the annual percentage rate (APR) would be easier to compute than the APR today using the current definiton of finance charge.” Now consider that I have 640 pages of these sentences to read this week, and several thousand pages of similar sentences ahead of me.

        And yet I remain hopeful that the current situation will not last, that in the next several years the finances will be sorted out, and I will be able to transition to a sustainable life, with many good books to read, remote surf-camping trips along the coast of Baja, plenty of sunshine, semi-regular yoga, fascinating subjects to study, pads of paper and pens to write, perhaps a tree-house to build, and much joy! 🙂

      • Yes, I think one of the things I’ve missed since going to law school is working with my hands, and in conjunction with that using my aesthetic sensibilities to create tangible things that are visually or spatially appealing. I made a simple wooden futon frame to sleep on, with dark Ipe would going across and nice-smelling Doug Fir for the structural beams. It was a practice project for the one I’d like to make using driftwood logs.

        I have had the thought more than once that a person with my quirky mix of termperment, personality, outdoor interests, intellectual interests, building interests and somewhat ascetic tendencies is not suitable for close relationships – the notion that the problem isn’t other people, the problem is me. 🙂 That’s sometimes a perplexing issue to sort out, and I’m not sure what the right balance would be if I could sort it out!

      • Ahh, the surfing and mountain biking and home remodeling sounds ideal, as does the living in the city part. I grew up with one foot in San Francisco, as my dad lived there, and my siblings and I visited twice a month from the other side of the bay.Whenever I visit the Bay Area now, the cool foggy air, the bridges, the smell of eucalyptus and bay laurels — it all feels like home. That said, it is kind of hard to picture raising my own children there!

        I understand the struggle of wanting to live up to one’s intellectual potential. I was the much-bragged-about “genius” of the family when growing up; the bookworm who already knew everything (ha!) and went off to college at age 16. Perhaps I should have become a doctor, or a lawyer, like you; or an engineer, or something intellectual and high-paying. Isn’t that what geniuses do? But no — I majored in Child Development, of all things. Child Development! What was I thinking? Well, I was only 16 years old. It’s funny and sad, the mistakes we make with so much confidence in our youth. Well, luckily, in some things, it is possible to set a new course. So next week, I am returning to college for a change of direction and hopefully a slightly more lucrative career. Meaningful? Well, probably not really. But perhaps the meaning does not have to be in the mind-numbing, repetitive desk work, but in the reasons for the salary. I have 3 children. I want to provide for them, take trips with them, and help them through college. I want to teach them the values of hard work, saving, and financial independence. Perhaps that is meaningful enough to give me a sense of purpose in my work, even if it is work that does not change the world.

        I think that it is hard to be a thinker, or a dreamer, or a hard worker, and not observe and perhaps judge those who refuse to think, or dream, or make an effort to do better, or to be better people, or to help others to do better with their lives. I am guilty of the same. But as an intellectual (or perhaps as a writer), I push myself to look beyond the surface and try to understand. I think that when we understand why people do and say and think the things that they do, then it is much harder to judge. I could keep writing, you know, until this becomes an entire blog post. 😉 Perhaps, in a sense, it already is.

      • I know it’s terribly whiny to complain about my job simply because it’s boring and not intellectually stimulating and not challenging, when in fact I live in the lap of luxury, with a level of abundance that’s almost unheard of throughout human history, and a grossly unjust, disproportionate share of the world’s resources. Still, while acknowledging how fortunate I am, it’s also honest to acknowledge how deeply dissatisfied I am – I do want to do work that’s meaningful to me, and perhaps even create things that have some aesthetic value that resonates with me (which could include creations as diverse as building a treehouse or a hobbit hole or a driftwood surf shack, or writing a book (or finishing the book I’m working on!) or building an outdoor kitchen or creating a beautiful landscape/permaculture garden, or shaping my own surfboards, or restoring an old truck), and I do want to pursue my intellectual passions and learn more physics and cosmology and math, and pursue my dreams of remote surf camping and surf exploration, not only along the West coast from Baja to Alaska, but also possibly along the coasts of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Chile (which has a vast, 2,600 mile coastline – longer than the entire coast from Seattle to Cabo San Lucas). And I think I’d like to do some kayak touring to access remote surf spots. And in the meantime I feel trapped and I sit at my desk and watch inspiring mountain biking videos like these and dream of being free: http://www.santacruzbicycles.com/en/news/403 thtp://www.santacruzbicycles.com/en/news/356

        Perhaps you might consider law school. With your skills and intellectual inclinations it would be quite easy and enjoyable for you, and you would do very, very well. I really enjoyed law school – it’s part-time (even with a full schedule, classes are generally from 8:00 to 1:00), and the cases you read are the very most interesting cases that have ever been decided, and then at the end of each semester you have 3 hours to write about all the cases you’ve read and apply the principles you’ve learned to new fact patterns. And that’s your entire grade! Plus you get 3-4 weeks off at Christmas, and summers off! And then you can work for a law firm and make tons of money – my starting salary at the law firm was $160,000 per year, and it was up to $210,000 when I left, plus a $50,000 bonus. I grew up poor – the oldest of 5 kids with a single mom who, when we thought we finally made it into the “middle class,” was raising us all on $17,000 per year!! So to make that kind of money – more in a bonus than most people make for an entire year of work – is pretty astonishing. And even now, I’ve taken a pay cut, but I still have a base pay of around $147,000, plus a 30% bonus, which is about $190,000. Of course, there are also lots of expenses – I had to buy a bunch of suits and ties and jackets and shoes and dress belts to fit in (about $10,000), and buy a semi-decent car (a 1997 Honda Accord, which really doesn’t measure up), and taxes are actually significant – I think I paid about $60,000 in taxes last year. But still, you end up with between $8,000 and $10,000 per month of take-home pay. So it’s really tough to complain about that, notwithstanding my continual complaints :).

        By the way, I stumbled upon your blog when I was Googling Pablo Neruda’s house, looking for good pictures. I’m thinking of buying a piece of land in the country, perhaps in Hood River, just up the Columbia River from Portland (it’s sunnier up the Columbia River), or maybe in Seaside, OR (there’s a very special surf wave there), or possibly around Mendocino (northern California on the coast is hard to beat). And I am thinking that designing and building a house that’s inspired by Pablo Neruda’s house would be a really good project for me – I’m actually pretty excited about it. I figure to do it right I would have to go down there to visit, take some measurements and understand the setting properly, and get the context just right 🙂 :). At the same time, it’s also true that I’d like to spend a lot of time surfing in Baja, and I don’t know what would happen to my home base while I was away for 6 months. So maybe it’s not a fully developed, practical plan yet.

        Now back to those regulations, and figuring out the points and fees test and exactly what components count towards the finance charge. But maybe I’ll watch a couple soccer videos first … 🙂

      • Wow, I LOVE your dreams! They certainly resonate with me. I used to pore over photos of amazing treehouse ideas, and even tried out a few in our backyard (at our old house, my kids used to have a large wooden playhouse and a 6-ft high wooden play structure in our backyard, which I enjoyed fixing up and adding on to. I even added a mini zip line that went across 1/3 of the yard). I had dreams of remodeling our old house, and used to read remodeling magazines and watch HGTV programs to gather ideas. I didn’t get far, other than repainting, IKEA furniture hacks, and little things, like changing light fixtures, though my ex-husband did put wood flooring in the living room. I love Neruda’s house, too, and am also inspired by some of the great designs I saw while living in the Bay Area — mostly modern designs with large windows and lovely little touches, like artsy tiles in the bathrooms and unusual faucets. I also love the outdoor room concept, with comfortable seating and outdoor dining.

        I also used to dream of learning to kayak, and of doing some serious backpacking expeditions, though the most I ever did was a week on the Pacific Coast Trail with a group of teen Girl Scouts, and even that was many years ago. But there is a huge planet out there, and beaches I have only heard about, and forests and deserts and ruins to explore. Now you are lucky, since finances don’t have to be a barrier to your dreams. You could always try some of those things on a smaller scale, like a group mountain biking or kayaking tour that lasts a couple of weeks – enough for a taste of adventure. As for me, I have to be practical. It’s great to recognize that you dream of doing something, but when there are more bills than income, and three amazing kids to provide for, well, duty wins that battle. If finances were not such a real struggle, well, then my kids would be right there with me, exploring the world (or perhaps visiting their father while I venture out on my own from time to time). Just last week, my teen asked me if we can “super save our money and travel to New York City,” because I was sharing stories of my own adventures there a few years ago. Oh, I wish I could do that for them!

        You’re probably right that I could probably handle being a lawyer. I also considered becoming a pediatric nurse practicioner, to combine my skills with kids and my intellectual abilities into a lucrative career. But the truth is, I can afford neither. There’s the gravity of realism again. I’ve decided to pursue a career as a PC Support Technician. Maybe it doesn’t sound exciting or fulfilling, but it combines two things that I enjoy: helping people and computers; it does not require an expensive educational path, and it is a fairly high demand career field with potential for at least an average salary. And let’s face it — right now, an average salary sounds pretty good to me. Maybe it will give us a chance to “super save” and have another small adventure or two before my kids head out into the world.

        One more thing — I used to have a lifelong dream of being a published author of children’s books. I’m not sure when that dream began to feel out of reach. Maybe it was the discouragement of one too many rejection slips. Perhaps one day, it is a dream that I may revisit, but right now, I think that I am kind of lost — maybe afraid to dream too much, because I know that I can’t attain what I want, so why bother, you know? I guess I prefer attainable fantasies.

      • Funny that you should mention Gresham. Two of my brothers live in Portland, and one, Shoshon, thinks I should move to Gresham or Hood River. The proximity to Mt. Hood and the PCT, the gorge and the fresh cherries and blueberries, a relatively progressive culture (compared to Texas suburbs, where incidentally there’s also high property tax because of no income tax), and lots of beautiful mountains and coast within striking distance, are all pretty appealing.

        Being a PC Support Technician sounds like a great field – way more practical and important than giving legal advice, and how can you go wrong with building your computer skills and keeping them up to date? It seems like the opportunities are endless.

        I understand the call of duty and responsibility. I have 3 unofficially adopted kids to provide for, and also their oldest sister, who is in New Orleans now and hopefully starting college in the fall, but who still requires financial support and moral support in the form of letter writing. As for the others, Marcus is halfway through his Freshman year, so after this school year he only has 3 years of High School left, and once he’s done with High School my responsibility will greatly diminish. For now my goal is to help him build a decent transcript so he has a good array of colleges to choose from. Marcel is 12-going-on-13, has ADHD, is very sweet, and has very little interest in school. His future probably does not lie in the class room. Their oldest sister, Jade, is 16, trying to figure out what type of path she wants to pursue. The great thing is that about 2 1/2 years ago I decided to try to get them into soccer. I wasn’t sure if they would like it or not. But they’ve gotten really, really into it, especially Marcel (Marcus still plays football, and he loves the camraderie of the football team, but he also likes soccer). So now they’re following the European leagues, learning all about different teams, looking forward to the World Cup, etc. And it’s given me a chance to rejuvenate my soccer career a little bit, to play with them, practice some ball work, get my touch back and play in an outdoor league and an indoor league.

        Another positive thing is that my new job is way more sustainable and manageable than my old one (where I frequently worked until midnight or 2:00 a.m.). When I started at the new job last summer, I found a lake near work where I can ride my bike during lunch and go for a quick swim – perfect in the 110 degree August heat! There’s also a soccer field near work where I can go during lunch to practice soccer moves – I have a whole routine I do. And I recently discovered that there’s a small aerobics room at the gym in the building where I work, and if it’s not being used at lunch I can do my soccer routine in there during winter. The other great thing about my new job is that I get 4 weeks of vacation – enough time to take the kids camping in the summer or even surfing in Baja!

        So I think I’ll probably stay put for the next 3 years until Marcus graduates from High School, and then hopefully transition to pursuing some of my true dreams. Or there’s a possibilty of moving during the summer after next to a place like Gresham or Hood River (I understand Gresham has a good soccer club too), and then at least I could start to live in better alignment with my values and dreams. And on the subject of dreams, perhaps when you get settled in a job with income that you’re comfortable with, then you’ll feel a desire to revisit writing children’s books? I don’t know much about that industry, but clearly you are a gifted writer and you enjoy writing, so I suspect you’ll be able to do it. Did you ever read Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do With My Life? In my view he’s kind of a mediocre writer, but what was interesting is the methodical way he went about pursuing it. I forget the details, but I think he took classes at SFSU and worked in the publisihing industry to see how they select which books to publish and advertise, or at least to get an insider’s perspective on how publishing works.

      • Oops…meant to add that Oregon has some great scenery. My mom used to live in Gresham, so close to the base of Mt. Hood, and I visited often as a teen. The rain is wonderful, in my opinion, but the property taxes are very high, I’ve been told, which offsets the lack of sales tax. Something to keep in mind, I guess.

      • BTW, why do you suppose endings have been so painful and horrible and traumatic – a description that resonates all too well in my experience!

      • Because I was a fool. Because I loved people too deeply even though it was not mutual. Because I made mistakes, as I always seem to do. Because I allowed myself to become attached to people, and to allow them to become important to me. Because I was stupid enough to believe the fairy tale.

        I keep writing and erasing, because this is a very painful topic. Maybe an analogy will work. Imagine that a person has a terrible fear of driving. The world would say: Face your fears. Drive. So the person gets in the car and begins to drive, then suffers a crash. The world will say: Get back behind the wheel. Face your fears. Now imagine that the person keeps getting behind the wheel and trying again, and every time, he crashes. Then finally, he begins to drive one day and keps going for a long time. For the first time ever, he sees the wonder and joy of driving, and relishes the scenery, and goes across country. Then one day, he makes one mistake — perhaps a wrong turn. The car swerves out of control, rolls over, and catches fire.

        “Get out of the car,” says the world. The world puts his body in a new car and hands him the keys. But the man cannot start the ignition. He cannot do anything. He died in that final car wreck.

      • It sounds like the past year or so have been very difficult. I empathize.

        In retrospect, I can’t really say that believing in the fairy tale is something I would wholeheartedly categorize as a mistake. Yes, it ended in disaster. Yes, it was very painful. Yes, it was very disruptive and for certain time periods damaging to my mental and emotional well-being. Yes, those losses have really challenged my positive view of myself and to a certain extent my identity.

        It seems facile to say that those experiences have been character building or some such cliche, and silly to try to spin them as positive “learning experiences.” And yet, I can’t say that I learned nothing about myself and my patterns. I think I’ve been pushed to be more honest about myself and my weaknesses and the parts of myself that I don’t regard as likely to be appealing or lovable to others. That’s a difficult thing to accept in life. And there are aspects of this type of process that are not only acutely painful but also humbling, in a potentially positive way. And I’ve struggled with accepting the parts of myself that I kind of wish were different, but at the same time don’t really wish were different.

      • Please don’t think that the “fairy tale” was my marriage. That was a 16-year mistake, and I am only relieved that it ended. I think that losing my friends a few years ago killed so much of me that afterward, it was easy to walk away from everything, including my marriage. I don’t regret it for a moment.

      • Ahh…4 weeks of vacation is a very nice perk indeed. Many people only get 1-2 weeks (although when I was a public school teacher, I had summers off, of course 😉 ) The ability to unwind and exercise in the middle of the day also sounds nice — especially the soccer part. Of course, you probably have already figured out what a sports nut I am, and especially soccer. I play, 2 of my kids play (although my teen is taking a year off), and I follow it fanatically. I love EPL, especially Manchester United, followed by Chelsea, and La Liga, especially Barcelona. I very occasionally follow MLS and root for Galaxy, The Earthquakes, or the Sounders, though I really should try harder to get into it and support soccer in this country. My favorite, of course, are USMNT and USWNT. I can’t wait for the World Cup this summer and wish that by some miracle (like winning a contest, haha) I could actually be there in person. On the other hand, it is probably crazy for an unescorted woman to travel to the World Cup, and much safer to watch from my living room.

        That’s terrific that you are supporting three young people, even if you have not officially adopted them. I think that having a committed adult in their lives who cares about them, roots for them, and guides them is what every child needs to develop into secure and healthy adults. And of course, I agree that soccer (or really, any sport) is a much-needed outlet for youth, and especially boys. I remind my teen of that every time surges of testosterone make him cranky or wired (Go outside! Ride your bike! Shoot some hoops! Kick your soccer ball around the field!).

        I can’t say that I have read Pro Bronson’s book.It does sound intriguing, and I really should try reading some books for guidance, since I am at a bit of a loss for direction right now. Ever feel like you are wandering around in circles in a heavy fog, with nothing but vague ideas to guide you? That has been my life for a few years now.

      • I am so relieved to see that you follow Barcelona! I was worried that you were stuck watching Man. U. play a game that, let’s face it, lacks the artistry, skill, beauty, possession and grace of the Spanish Geniuses (which, to give credit where credit is due, largely comes from Cruyff developing the youth academy in Barcelona based on the dutch/Ajax training methods which emphasize “total football”, ball control, dribbling and finishing skill, and attacking style and flair)!!!   By the way, there is a wonderful set of skills DVDs by Dutch coach Weil Coerver. There are lots of free youtube videos out there (most are not quite as good as the DVDs, but they are free and easy to watch over and over!). The idea is to start with basic “fast feet” movements to develop touch on the ball, and then there are movements that emphasiz ankle flexibility, like rolling the ball with the inside of the foot, outside of the foot, behind the leg, etc., and then there are build-ups that create moves to beat an opponent – scissors, step-overs, cuts, feints, etc., and then there is work on finishing, not only shooting but also side-volleys, heading, etc. (I also use it as an exercise routine – it’s kind of graceful, almost like dance steps or mini-aerobics).   Here is a link to the DVDs on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Soccer-Coerver-Fundamentals-Footwork-Feinting/dp/B0000DEYUH. The “Coerver Fundamentals” series is excellent, and so is the “1-2-3 Goal” series.

        Here are some links to videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwsUBXrq9UQ&list=PLACBA3B8C72FA3F74 (watch the entire video, it get’s better after the first couple minutes and has lots of the basic exercises).

        This one is a little bit more advanced, and one of my favorites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5_2WD1TGf4 And this one is really advanced – more of a futsal/street futbol approach, but it’s doable once you learn the basics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_c0TEylXhU

        Zidane, another favorite, even though I’m not a fan of Real Madrid (for political reasons I’ll explain later): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7mXGMcpA0g

        Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5XyociRWRs

        Just to be clear, I do understand that I’m obsessed!!! 🙂

      • It’s a good obsession. 🙂 But you must understand that I am loyal to Man U before Barça. Don’t take me wrong – Barcelona is an excellent team (and not only because of Messi), but Man U is, in my opinion, the better team overall. If the two teams were to play each other, then I think that Man U’s current forward attack would be too much for Barça’s defense. Okay, the same could be said for Barça’s forward attack, but it depends on who’s in the lineup, whereas Man U has a larger reserve of forward powerhouses. More importantly, the forwards work better as a unit than Barcelona, who relies more on fancy footwork to break through the defense. (Really, this is all opinion and doesn’t count for much. They are both excellent teams, and even when pitted against one another, they often draw.)

        I am a huge soccer nut, but I lack the knowledge of technique to be able to analyze the style of attack in great depth. Maybe it is the kind of thing that you learn by watching games along with other soccer fans with more knowledge. I play, but I have very little knowledge of technique. I only played for two years as a kid, for my coed middle school team. It was fun, but I didn’t learn much. No worries though – I make up for lack of fancy footwork with speed and passing. Use what you’ve got, that’s my motto. Whatever scores the goals. I will check out the videos you suggested, though.

      • The article is not quite the same without all the photos of Barca fans around the globe – rebels in Egypt and Libya, Kobe in Italy, people throughout Africa and the middle east, all sporting their Barca colors because of that ideal – Mas Que Un Club.

        The World’s Team

        The Hogwarts of sports is a sparkling steel-and-glass building in Sant Joan Despí, a sleepy suburb not far from the Gaudí-bejeweled center of Barcelona. On a starlit night with breezes blowing in off the Mediterranean, the teams of FC Barcelona’s youth academy descend in waves of yellow onto a manicured practice field. They march down from La Masia (the Farmhouse), the name given to the 300-year-old residence that housed Barça’s first academy and transferred to the decidedly less bucolic school at the club’s new $87 million training headquarters.

        It’s a special evening, a chance for Barça to shoot team photographs under the floodlights and present its best and brightest to a gathering of proud parents in the stands. A phalanx of taxis waits in the parking lot, meters running, ready to ferry teen and preteen prospects from Catalonian towns back to their homes, as they do every night at the club’s expense. Most of the remaining two thirds of the academy’s players—boarders from other Spanish regions and a dozen countries—live on site in an educational and sporting laboratory that is both nurturing and fiercely competitive.

        The children draw closer. You study their faces and can’t help but wonder: Which of these eight- and 12- and 14-year-olds might turn into the planet’s best soccer player, the closest thing in sports to King of the World? Which ones will help add to Barça’s Champions League titles, three in the last seven seasons? Usually such questions are preposterous. Most top European clubs—Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea—are lucky to have even one homegrown player in their starting lineups. But La Masia’s track record of developing champions is unprecedented, the evidence visible every time FC Barcelona takes the field.

        In Barça’s Champions League game against Spartak Moscow on Sept. 19, eight of the team’s 11 starters—including Lionel Messi, the world’s preeminent player—were products of the club’s youth academy. On Barça’s first goal, forward Tello (who joined the club at age 13) cut inside on a dime and blasted a shot from distance into the right corner. Later, with Barça down 2–1, Tello slalomed past a defender and fed Messi (who also joined at 13) for the tap-in equalizer. Finally, as Spartak desperately crowded all 11 players behind the ball, Barça unspooled a majestic sequence from its own half: 18 passes, short and long, on the ground and in the air, using the full width of the field.

        There’s a tantric rhythm to Barcelona’s scoring buildups that Sting would love. Pass and move, pass and move. Each man on the ball has at least two options, creating triangles large and small, a blend of movement and geometry that calls to mind the turning wheel of a kaleidoscope as the attack proceeds inexorably downfield. Spartak was powerless. Barça’s passing sequence involved nine players in 55 seconds, including academy products Xavi (from age 11), Cesc Fàbregas (from 10), Pedro (from 17), Sergio Busquets (from 17) and, as ever, Messi. The 25-year-old Argentine is capable of astonishing individual pyrotechnics—see his snaking 60-yard scoring run to beat six Getafe defenders in 2007—but his game-winning header against Spartak off Alexis Sánchez’s cross was something else, a true team goal, the difference between a cobra strike and a python’s slow asphyxiation. Both, in the end, are lethal.

        Today’s Barça academy members know all of Messi’s greatest hits. Only a few of these boys will survive the club’s ruthless cuts and join him on the first team someday, but by the time they do they will feel FC Barcelona—the history, the identity, the style—in their blood and in their bones.

        Barça’s president, Sandro Rosell, knows this. On a hope-filled night with soccer’s school of wizardry looming behind him, Rosell addresses the future Messis and Xavis and their parents in Catalan, waxing philosophical about the role of La Masia. “This is the essence of the club,” he concludes, his hands outstretched, before leading everyone in a thunderous chant.

        Visca Barça!

        Visca Catalunya!

        History matters. And so, after Barcelona won the Champions League final in May 2011, pounding Manchester United 3–1 in soccer’s most thrilling display of the past 25 years, defender Gerard Piqué did something no one else had tried at the sport’s marquee annual event. He cut down the net. All 452 square feet of it. As he strode across the field, piles of nylon billowing over his shoulders, Piqué resembled a Catalonian fisherman bringing in a prize catch. “When I see a basketball team win, they cut down the net,” explains Piqué, 25, a Barça academy product. “So I said, Why not us?”

        Part of the net now hangs on a wall in Piqué’s home, a tangible reminder of the day Barcelona reached a new pinnacle. It wasn’t just that it had outclassed England’s most storied team, or that it claimed another coveted winner’s trophy, one of a remarkable 14 in 20 competitions over the past five seasons. (No other team has come close.) The spectacle also hailed the triumph of an idea: that beautiful, intricate soccer can be winning soccer, and that it can be homegrown. Two years ago all three finalists for the FIFA Ballon d’Or, given to the world’s best player, had developed as children at FC Barcelona: Messi, the winner, and midfield string pullers Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. It was as though three people from the same middle school had won Nobel Prizes.

        Imagine that nearly all the members of the New York Yankees lineup had played baseball in the organization since their early to mid-teens, and you’d have Barcelona, which meets Real Madrid this Sunday in the latest edition of the sports world’s fiercest rivalry. “I’ve played with some of my teammates since I was 12,” says Fàbregas, now 25. “When Messi first came, we were both 13. He was so tiny! We’re all more like friends, and we fight for each other. I could go with this team to the end of the world.”

        Experts have scrambled to put Barcelona’s feats in historical context. “In my time as manager, it’s the best team we have played,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, Man United’s coach since 1986, after the 2011 defeat. Where does the Barcelona of the past five years rank among the top soccer teams of all time? “The short answer is by far the best,” says Ray Hudson, the poet laureate of Spanish soccer for beIN Sport television, launching into a six-minute ode that is anything but a short answer. “I can’t imagine anybody going beyond this purest example of football. They have spoiled the game for me. When I try to watch other teams and other leagues, it’s like I’ve just read a wonderful novel and gone back to nursery-rhyme books.”

        As Barcelona aims for its third Champions League title in five seasons, its popularity, like Piqué’s clever net removal, transcends soccer itself. In 1992 the Dream Team swaggered into the Barcelona Olympics with the signature basketball players of a generation—Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird—and changed the face of global sports. Now, 20 years later, it’s as though Barcelona is returning the favor, mesmerizing hard-core fútbol followers while winning new hearts and minds for the Beautiful Game. When SI conducted a Facebook survey asking users to name their top sports moment of 2011, Messi’s Champions League final performance received more first-place votes from the U.S. than the champions of the NFL, NBA and NHL. In New York City’s Times Square, chances are you’ll see as many Messi Barcelona jerseys on people as the shirt of any other athlete. Barça’s Facebook page has 35 million subscribers, more than any other sports team.

        There have been other international sports dynasties—Jordan’s six-time NBA champion Bulls, for example—but at least one authority on soccer and the NBA thinks Barcelona has left those teams behind. “To win in Spain and around Europe and the world club competition the way they have, it’s unprecedented in the modern era,” says two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, an ardent culé (Barça fan) who dragged his girlfriend to watch Messi’s Marauders on a pub TV during a Jamaican vacation last year. “And to do it with the style and beauty they’ve done it with, you’ve got to give them extra credit. Not that the Bulls weren’t fun to watch, but this is something else.”

        In an era in which supporting the Yankees and the Heat feels like cheering for Microsoft, you can root for FC Barcelona and feel good about it on every level. Barça is the paragon of a championship sports team: exciting, homegrown, tied to the community, with an inspiring social mission and the world’s most magical player. What’s more, Barcelona players are the core of Spain’s national team, the first to hold the World Cup and two European crowns at the same time.

        History matters. Barcelona is already pulling away in the Spanish league, and it’s favored to win the Champions League. If the club can raise both trophies again, there will be no doubt: Barça is the team of our time.

        Lionel Andrés Messi has inspired millions of words in a babel of tongues, but perhaps the best way to summarize him is this: When he is in the game, even hard-core fans might witness something they have never seen before. Take Barcelona’s 2–0 victory over Granada on Sept. 22. Late in the game Messi dribbled from the left side into the penalty area, where two defenders sandwiched him, briefly dislodging the ball. In a split second, at full speed, Messi flicked his foot behind him to tap the ball, ran around the defender to meet the ball again and pinballed a low cross off Granada defender Borja Gómez and into the net.

        The stat sheet would list it as an own goal, but the rest of us could only watch in disbelief. A backheel to himself. In the box. Even Hudson, calling the game on TV, was at a loss for words: “Just another out-of-body experience for Lionel Messi.” Indeed, it’s hard not to get spiritual watching Messi. Just as the Bulls’ triangle offense needed a sporting genius for it to enter the pantheon, so too does Barcelona’s triangle offense. “It’s a special group of players with obvious talent,” says Fàbregas, “and the best player that there has ever been.”

        The résumé Messi has already produced at age 25 only begins to make the case: a world-record 73 goals in all club competitions last season, including an unprecedented five in one Champions League game; 252 goals and 89 assists in 331 Barça appearances at week’s end; three Champions League and five Spanish league titles; and three straight world player of the year awards, also unprecedented. Already he has joined Pelé and Diego Maradona in the debate over the greatest player of all time, and while detractors note that Messi has yet to win a World Cup (Pelé won three, Maradona one), it’s also true that the sport has changed since the days of those older stars. The Champions League is now viewed in many precincts as a superior competition to the World Cup because it features more top players, a bigger sample size and a higher level of play that international soccer’s marquee quadrennial event. Pelé never played club soccer in Europe, while Maradona never won the top European club crown, which was decided by a smaller-scale tournament during his career. If Messi keeps winning the most important club trophies and putting up off-the-charts numbers with Barça, he may not need the World Cup to be called the greatest.

        Messi’s relationship with his Barcelona teammates is strikingly symbiotic. For all of Barça’s ball possession, little of it would matter if Messi were not there to finish. To understand what Barça might be like without Messi, look at Spain during much of Euro 2012, when La Roja kept other teams from scoring but had trouble doing so itself. Yet Messi needs his Barça teammates if he’s to play at his highest level. Without them—and especially without the intuitive understanding he shares with Xavi and Iniesta—Messi can sometimes be frustrated and diminished, not least when he’s playing for Argentina.

        When fans from his home country want to sting Messi, they say he’s more Catalan than Argentine. It’s not true. Messi still consumes Argentine beef and maté tea, speaks Spanish with an Argentine accent and is awaiting the birth of his first child with girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo, who’s from his hometown of Rosario. Then again, Messi also embodies traits more commonly associated with Catalans, who are known for dealmaking, efficiency and a cleverness that has a softer edge than its Argentine counterpart. While Maradona’s brilliance came by any means necessary—including scoring a goal with his fist in the 1986 World Cup—Messi is known for his fair play. Despite the sometimes brutal defending he faces, he does not dive. Messi’s rise into the sporting stratosphere has paralleled Barcelona’s. Small wonder that Barça’s fans in the Camp Nou consider him one of their own.

        The 5’7″ Messi is a master of many things, from balance and coordination to speed and a seemingly limitless imagination on the field. Alas, describing his talents in his own words, as many have learned, is not among them. Perhaps by design, Messi is as reserved as Maradona is bombastic. Fortunately, Messi’s teammates are happy to speak for him. They grow animated when asked the question, As someone who has reached the top of the sport yourself, what do you see in Messi that impresses you the most?

        On a sun-filled morning at the team’s training complex, Xavi’s eyes widen and he gets jazz hands as he talks about Messi. “The hardest thing in soccer is to take on the defender and dribble around him,” he says. “Well, Messi dribbles around four, five, six, seven and scores. That’s practically impossible today. Everybody is physically strong, tall. In a combination play you can get there, but he does it by himself and does it in each game. In soccer there are two speeds: physical, the speed of your legs, and mental. I only have this one”—Xavi points to his head—”but he has both. That’s why he’s the best in the world.”

        Other elements are in play too. Fàbregas explains why he thinks Messi is the real thing: “When the final ball is played he’s always on the end of things, but it’s because he makes the really big effort to get in the nice positions. His desire is so big that he makes the other players look like they don’t want it as bad.”

        What’s more, Messi’s teammates say, he’s the last person you’d expect to issue an Are we talkin’ about practice? rant in the Allen Iverson mold. “[He] could say, ‘O.K., I’m the best, but in training I don’t care, I can be lazy,'” says Piqué, “but he’s working at the same level in training as well. It’s unbelievable.”

        Xavi thinks Messi will spend his entire career at Barcelona. “He’s happy, and he was raised here,” Xavi says. “I don’t think he can leave for another club.” That’s not to say Messi will stand still. In the face of new challenges, remaining at the top requires reinvention. Barcelona lost enough of its edge last season to finish second in the Spanish league behind Real Madrid and go out in the Champions League semifinals to the eventual surprise winner, Chelsea. Pep Guardiola, the Barça coach and mastermind who also developed as a player at La Masia, left his job at age 41 after a remarkable four-year run. (He’s taking a year’s sabbatical with his family in New York City.)

        Can Barcelona return to dominance under Guardiola’s former assistant, Tito Vilanova? And can Messi and Barça find ways to beat teams that follow Chelsea’s playbook and pack as many players as possible in the defensive end? “That’s the key about Messi: As a player he’s reinventing himself each season, improving year after year,” says Carles Folguera, the director of Barcelona’s youth academy. “He’s not only a top scorer but an assist leader as well. He can play on the wings and up the middle. That’s his own ability to grow and improve and take a hard look at himself.”

        With all the changes, there’s a sense that Messi is entering a new phase of his career, like Picasso making the transition from his Blue Period to Cubism. In that case, Messi has chosen the right place, a city in which soccer and art are one and the same.

        The procession never stops. In the shadow of the Camp Nou, Barcelona’s 98,000-seat stadium, the FC Barcelona museum attracts an endless stream of visitors. Foreign tourists are among the pilgrims, of course, but so are waves of Catalans: schoolkids on field trips, old-timers reliving childhood memories, teenage girls tittering over giant photographs of Piqué and Messi and Fàbregas. The shrine to Barça’s past and present is the most visited museum in the city, more than those devoted to Picasso and Miró, more than the museum at La Sagrada Família.

        The FC Barcelona motto—Més que un club, Catalan for “More than a club”—is deliberately open-ended. In one sense it refers to Barça’s social mission as a 113-year-old organization with 118,000 dues-paying members who vote in elections for the club’s leaders. For years Barça was the only major soccer team that refused to sell space on its jersey to a corporate sponsor, before making the novel decision in 2006 to donate about $2 million a year and put UNICEF’s logo there. (The big-spending Qatar Foundation replaced it last season in a $225 million sponsorship deal as Barça addressed a $430 million net debt amassed largely through bank loans to pay for transfers; but UNICEF remains on the back.)

        In another sense the motto highlights Barcelona’s place as a touchstone for Catalan identity. “It’s the people’s club,” says Rosell, a former Nike executive who once served as a ball boy at the Camp Nou. “It’s a club that understands what it means to be from Barcelona and Catalonia, what it means to be a club that had run-ins with a dictatorship for 40 years and survived with values opposed to what the dictatorship stood for.”

        FC Barcelona first became a political force in 1918, when it joined a campaign for the autonomy of Catalonia from Castilian Spain. After Barça fans booed the Spanish national anthem in 1925, the military regime of Miguel Primo de Rivera shut down the club for six months and forced its founder, Joan Gamper, and his family to leave the country. During the Spanish Civil War police supporting General Francisco Franco arrested and executed Barça’s president, Josep Sunyol, after he tried to visit Republican troops protecting Madrid against a right-wing siege. Catalonia bitterly resisted Franco’s coup, and when Barcelona finally fell, the general’s troops bombed the building that held Barça’s trophies. Problems between the club and the Spanish state only continued during Franco’s 36-year rule. The dictatorship forced the club to change its name to the Spanish Club de Fútbol Barcelona and ended its direct elections. Yet Barça’s stadium remained the only place where 100,000 Catalans could voice their fury at Franco, who refrained from crushing their protests.

        Franco was a soccer fan. His favorite team was Real Madrid, which met Barcelona in the semifinals of the General’s Cup in 1943, four years after the end of the Spanish Civil War. Barça won the first leg 3–0, but Franco’s director of state security entered the locker room before the return leg in Madrid and warned Barcelona’s players that the regime had graciously allowed them to return to Spain from wartime exile. During a time of violent reprisals against dissidents, the menace in his hint was unmistakable; Barcelona took the field and lost 11–1.

        Barça won two Spanish titles over Real Madrid in the early 1950s, but in ’53 the Franco-controlled national soccer federation settled a dispute between the two rivals over the signing of Argentine star Alfredo Di Stéfano that resulted in his joining Madrid. He would lead Real to an unprecedented five straight European Cup titles from 1956 through ’60 and help turn Real into the world’s preeminent team.

        “When I talk to Real Madrid historians, they always ask me, Was Real Madrid manipulating the military or was the military manipulating Real Madrid?” says Carles Santacana, a historian at the University of Barcelona. The Marshall Plan had given nothing to Spain, a neutral Axis ally that was isolated internationally after World War II. But relations between Franco and the former Allies began thawing in the 1950s, leading to Spain’s admission to the United Nations in ’55. Real Madrid became a face of that change. “Starting with the European Cup, it was a way for the Spanish authorities to say, We’re something in the world, in Europe,” says Santacana. “A foreign minister said Real Madrid was Spain’s best ambassador.”

        The turning point for Barça came during Franco’s final years, in the early 1970s, when more backroom intrigue sent the visionary Dutch player Johan Cruyff to Barcelona. After the Di Stéfano controversy, the Spanish federation forbade new signings of foreigners for two decades, unless those players were the sons of Spaniards who had emigrated to Latin America. In 1971 the federation allowed 38 of those so-called oriundos to join Spanish teams but nixed Barça’s signings of two of them. Suspecting it was being singled out, Barcelona sent a lawyer to South America to check the documentation of the 38, according to Santacana. “Only one had legitimate paperwork,” the historian says. “The rest falsified theirs. Barça put the report on the table and came to an agreement with the federation not to release it in exchange for the lifting of the ban on foreigners. And that’s how they signed Cruyff in 1973.”

        One of the greatest players of all time, Cruyff had the attitude to match his stature, and he wasn’t afraid to voice his political views: He said he would never have joined Real Madrid because of its association with Franco. In his debut season with Barcelona, the 26-year-old Cruyff led the club to the Spanish league title, its first in 14 years, including a historic 5–0 victory at Real. “You can still get older people to start crying about that day,” says Sam Lardner, a former Barça ice hockey player who has lived in Barcelona since 1997 and served on the board of Cruyff’s foundation. “Catalan culture is wrapped up in pact making. Catalans are not an aggressive people. They have never had a decisive strategic military victory in their history. So Johan was walking into a cultural feeling of never quite being able to win that goes way back. When he did that, it was like: wow.”

        Yet Cruyff’s legacy at Barça has come less as a player than as the embodiment of a philosophy, one that now seeps through every level of the club down to the youth teams. Based on the Dutch school of soccer, it values skill over brawn, ball possession over quick-hit counterattacks, entertainment over pragmatism. Cruyff instilled the idea as Barça’s coach from 1988 to ’96, winning four Spanish league titles and a European Cup, and the style is constantly being refined. “Cruyff’s first rule or idea was to defend through ball possession,” says Xavi, 32. “If there’s only one ball in play and you have control of it, you don’t need to defend. And then the idea of attacking soccer: triangles, long possessions. We’ve had this philosophy since Cruyff came, and now we’ve had the good fortune of having a fantastic generation of players.”

        How that generation arrived at the top of the soccer world is the story of La Masia.

        Cesc Fàbregas can close his eyes and remember the exhaustion he felt as a 10-year-old. Every weekday at 5 p.m. a taxi would pick him up at his house in Arenys de Mar, 25 miles outside Barcelona. In the next two hours the taxi would make five other stops before delivering the half-dozen boys to practice at the Barça youth academy, which in those days was next to the Camp Nou. A 90-minute practice would follow, and then another two-hour cab ride home, followed by dinner, homework, a few hours of sleep and back to school the next morning at seven. “I was too tired as a young boy, and I couldn’t sleep very well, but this is what I loved,” he says. “So after three years I moved to La Masia.”

        They all have their sacrifice stories, from Fàbregas to Messi (who moved from Argentina to Barcelona with his family in early adolescence) to hundreds of other prospects who didn’t make the grade. Founded in 1979 as the brainchild of Cruyff, Barcelona’s youth academy is based on the one run by Ajax, the Amsterdam club that gave the Dutchman his start. The guiding principle is to instill the same skill-based philosophy that guides the senior team. “It’s like getting a master’s in soccer,” Xavi says. “In each session they teach you objectives. Why do we do this exercise? Many teams train just to get physically fit, but the key is to understand the game, to choose the moment you play the ball short in order to then play it long. To know how to decide on the field is the most important thing they teach at La Masia. But it’s also a school of life because it teaches you the values of respect, humility and camaraderie. It’s a way to live soccer and life.”

        The emphasis is on quality over quantity of practice time. Training sessions take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m.—three times a week for academy members under 13, four times for older ones—with a game on the weekend. For boarders, the typical day involves attending school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., returning for lunch and then homework until six, followed by practice. Of the 80 current residents at La Masia, 58 are there for soccer, the rest for basketball, handball and ice hockey. Merely by being admitted to the academy, youngsters have survived a competitive winnowing process. “You always seek talent,” says Guillermo Amor, a former academy graduate and Barcelona player and now La Masia’s sporting director. “That’s fundamental, to have very good players at a young age. Before, you sought out 14- and 15-year-old kids. Now you have to go younger. That makes us work hard to get the best players in our seventh soccer division, who are the smallest and start with seven-year-olds.”

        The way Amor sees it, La Masia’s success comes from having the confidence to place faith in young players and train them to excel on the global stage. When in doubt, most top teams choose to spend millions to bring in a proven star. While most major European clubs have youth academies, few are as committed to inculcating in their young players an entire philosophy. Barça has selectively tabbed established players, such as David Villa and Ronaldinho, but its preference is to dip into the prospect pool. It helps that everyone can see the results of the process every time Barcelona’s senior team takes the field. But unlike the first team, the youth academy isn’t about the unceasing pursuit of trophies. “We never tell kids, ‘Go out and win, win, win; we want titles,'” says Amor. “We’re forming players—people—and there will be time to win the day they play on the first team. But not to win at any price. We want to win by controlling the ball, bringing it up from the back, taking the initiative, dominating. That’s our style.”

        There’s a human side to the academy, of course. Only a handful of chosen ones will reach the senior team. At the end of every spring the academy directors make their cuts—”the hardest moment,” Amor says, in part because the emotional bonds are so tight.

        “When we talk about La Masia, we do so as if it were a family for these kids,” says Folguera, the academy director. “We know about their grades, their nutrition, the problems they have, how they get along with their families, if they have girlfriends. We’re always with them.” For the same reasons, those who do make it feel as if the club is part of their fundamental identity. For them, the Barcelona shirt is never just laundry.

        Nor for Barça is producing players the same as making widgets. “We’re not going to clone Xavi, Messi or Iniesta just because in X number of years they’re not going to be around anymore,” says Andoni Zubizarreta, Barça’s football director, “but the idea behind our style will be.”

        Who will be La Masia’s gems of the next generation? Perhaps Gerard Deulofeu, 18, a forward from nearby Girona who has already debuted with the senior team. Or Jean Marie Dongou, 17, a marvelously talented Cameroonian striker. Or Alejandro Grimaldo, 17, a gifted left back from Valencia. Who knows? For the first time there’s even an American at La Masia: Ben Lederman, a midfielder from the Los Angeles area. After being chosen in a tryout, Lederman moved to Barcelona with his family last year so that he could join the academy.

        He’s 12.

        More than a club. The reminders of Barça’s transcendence are large and small, global and domestic. During a Champions League game at the Camp Nou last month, large sections of the stadium dusted off the old chants for Catalan independence, amid Catalan political leader Artur Mas’s calls for fiscal sovereignty from the rest of Spain and a subsequent march of 1.5 million Catalans in the streets of Barcelona on Sept. 11.

        What’s more, at a time when the unemployment rate in Spain is hovering at 25%, at least one player is acutely aware of the role Barça plays in society. Messi may be Barcelona’s resident genius, but the keeper of Cruyff’s flame is Xavi, the figure who most clearly embodies the club’s philosophy, now and in the future. Cruyff himself rarely visits anymore, the result of disagreements with Rosell, the club’s president. But Xavi has lived the apotheosis of Cruyff’s Barcelona, winning three Champions League titles—and, playing a similar style, a World Cup and the last two Euros with Spain. Xavi thinks the game more than any other Barça player. In the past two seasons he has nine of the top 15 Champions League performances in terms of completed passes in a match. He will almost surely coach Barcelona someday.

        In an era in which athleticism, defense and brawn have threatened to take over the world’s game, Xavi feels in his core that Barcelona is fighting for the soul of soccer. “I believe in this philosophy of ours,” he says, “but years ago, because we weren’t winning, people had doubts. Italy had won the World Cup; Greece had won the Euro. The Champions League was won by physical teams. And I thought, No, it can’t be. Soccer is talent, you know. For the good of the fans, for the good of the game, talented players should always play the sport. But I’m a soccer romantic, and there are others who only want to win, win, compete, defend. Hell no. Soccer can be very beautiful.”

        If that sounds romantic, then so be it. Barcelona has taken the game to places it has never been, exceeding what we thought was possible, creating new fans in the process. “They’ve raised people’s appreciation of what they do beyond simple sport, as all greats do,” says Graham Hunter, author of Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World. “I don’t think it’s false to say that in times of economic crisis, when a lot of people around the world are fearful for their daily existence, it’s as if God sent this era at Barcelona.”

        In a sometimes ugly world the team of our time brings a simple joy. When Xavi ventures out into the city, older fans, the ones who know the history, stop him on the street, pulling him close. “They tell me, ‘Thanks for playing soccer like that. You make me enjoy it,'” he says. “You can’t top that for me.”

        He smiles. History matters. Beauty too.

      • Haha…now I am re-reading your post with amusement. See, my knowledge of technique is so poor, that I’m wondering, what are scissors, side volleys, and feints? I’ve done some step-overs before during games, quite by accident, but I couldn’t do one on purpose if I tried. I admire the techniques that I see, but I don’t know what to even call them.

      • I am so relieved to see that you follow Barcelona! I was worried that you were stuck watching Man. U. play a game that, let’s face it, lacks the artistry, skill, beauty, possession and grace of the Spanish Geniuses (which, to give credit where credit is due, largely comes from Cruyff developing the youth academy in Barcelona based on the dutch/Ajax training methods which emphasize “total football”, ball control, dribbling and finishing skill, and attacking style and flair)!!! Lol.   By the way, there is a wonderful set of skills DVDs by Dutch coach Viel Coerver. There are lots of free youtube videos out there, although most are not quite as good as the DVDs. The idea is to start with basic “fast feet” movements, and then there are movements that emphasiz angle flexibility, like rolling the ball with the inside of the foot, outside of the foot, behind the leg, etc., and then there are build-ups that create moves to beat an opponent – scissors, step-overs, cuts, feints, etc., and then there is work on finishing, not only shooting but also side-volleys, heading, etc.   Here is a link to the DVDs on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Soccer-Coerver-Fundamentals-Footwork-Feinting/dp/B0000DEYUH. The “Coerver Fundamentals” series is excellent, and so is the “1-2-3 Goal” series.

        In addition, there are a number of free videos you can watch on youtube. They are not quite as good as the DVDs, but they can be fun and helpful for the kids to learn and explore on their own: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwsUBXrq9UQ&list=PLACBA3B8C72FA3F74 (watch the entire video, it get’s better after the first couple minutes and has lots of basic exercises). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5_2WD1TGf4

      • I was really influenced by Dutch soccer. Actually it started with an old video called 101 great goals, which were mostly from English football and World Cups. But then the Cruyff vision of total football, the skill of everyone on their 1974 World Cup team – when my siblings and I saw that, we just felt like that was the solution to all our problems – being able to pass and possess the ball, with defenders who could control and make accurate passes instead of just clearing it or kicking the ball away, and midfielders who picked their head up and did combination passes like 1-2s and made triangles instead of putting their heads down and trying to go straight forward every time, and forwards who were target players who came back to the ball instead of chasing long balls over the top. It all just came together as a beautiful vision. And then we saw Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard and Rudd Gullit. And then Dennis Bergkamp scored that goal in the final minutes against Argentina. And then the next magic generation of Dutch players – Patrick Cluivert, Kanu, Finidi George, Jari Litmanen, Sunday Oliseh, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Frank and Ron De Boer – Kanu and Litmanen especially seemed so graceful, perfect touches, supreme composure.

        Of course, I love all the old English goals, there was one from the late 60s or early 70s where a 3rd or 4th division team won the FA cup, and I guy whose name was something like Bradford scored in the last minutes from a give-and-go on a rainy, muddy, chopy field, and all the fans rushed onto the field and the announcer was screaming “The crowd are invading the pitch, the crowd are invading the pitch!” And George Best, the phenom who sadly partied and drank himself to death, and said, “I spent my money on fast cars, birds and booze. The rest I squandered.”

        And then Cruyff went to Barcelona and implemented the Dutch training methods in the youth academy, and then Frank Rijkaard coached Barcelona, and a bunch of the Dutch players played for Barcelona over the years, and it was that Dutch influence that produced the beautiful style of control and attacking soccer among the players who came through the acedemy, particularly Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi himself. Meanwhile, sadly, Dutch soccer became cynical, much to Cruyff’s dismay. Here’s what he said after the last World Cup:

        “And regrettably, sadly, they [Holland] played very dirty. So much so that they should have been down to nine immediately, then they made two [such] ugly and hard tackles that even I felt the damage.

        “It hurts me that I was wrong in my disagreement that instead Holland chose an ugly path to aim for the title.

        “This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style, yes it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing. They were playing anti-football.”

        And so it seems to me that Cruyff’s beautiful vision lives on in Barcelona :).

        I’ll post an interesting article about the political side separately.

      • I think that what makes soccer The Beautiful Game is a complex blend of the footwork and touches, complex and accurate passes, and creative and cohesive teamwork, all mixed with fair play. When you remove any of these elements, the game loses its magic. Barcelona and Manchester United are great and inspiring because both teams have a wonderful combination of these elements, although Barca leans a little more toward footwork, and Man U toward teamwork and passes. Both teams are a great example of what club soccer can and should be.

        It’s during the World Cup and other international games that I see the real difference between “ugly football” and the Beautiful Game. I get so frustrated when I see players from some countries relying on unfair tackles or flopping to force a foul where it wasn’t due, trying to gain an advantage. Nor do I like to see an imbalance, like teams that rely mostly on speed and aggression but lack good touches, footwork, and passes. It is hard for me to watch Argentina, for example, when it often seems that the team is leaning on Messi to do everything, but the rest of the team just falls apart and can’t even support him. But when a team works well together, and there is a strong balance of individual skill and teamwork, it shines through and makes a team stand out (like Spain, for an obvious example. Brazil used to have that, but they have really gone downhill in recent years).

      • Sorry for the long soccer digression and the long article – easy to get carried away on that topic!

        How did you like being a teacher? One of my thoughts during law school was that I could become a teacher. I took a different path because of the student loan debt, but in a couple years I might revisit that – I think I would love it, as long as I had a mortgage paid off and the money wasn’t too much of an issue. I’d like to teach physics or Spanish, and it would be great to be able to spend summers camping and surfing … every summer!

        I have definitely had the experience of wandering in circles in the fog, without a clear path before me. I also had a beautiful surf session in the fog near the Lost Coast, and the fog made the sun look like the moon, so my brother and I felt like we were surfing in moonlight. There’s also a Buddhist saying I like, which goes something like “Do you have the patience to wait unitl the mud settles and the water is clear?” I think many times in my life I have not waited for clarity, and I’ve felt the need to take action, to do “something” rather than “nothing,” but because I didn’t have clarity the action I took didn’t really take me in the direction I wanted to go. So sometimes maybe it can be better to stay in the present and wait for the fog to clear, and the course of action that feels right will present itself.

        I also wanted to mention a book I find inspiring. It’s called Paddling My Own Canoe, by Audrey Sutherland. She wanted to Kayak the inlets and bays in Alaska, and she kept putting it off, and finally when she got to be 62 she decided to do it, and she went solo, and she loved it so much that she returned every summer for the next 19 years! So she was paddling thousands of miles by herself in her 70s and early 80s!! In her book she tells all about catching fresh salmon for dinner, eating mussles and squaw cabbage, finding hot springs and fresh streams, seeing bears and wolves, packing peanut butter bars for energy, camping on remote beaches, and soaking in the pristine wilderness. I love that vision!

      • That sounds like an interesting read. It reminds me of Walden, although Thoreau’s vision was much broader than simply doing it to fulfill a lifelong dream. I enjoy reading such stories of survival and self-sufficiency as much as any other life story, but it is not a vision that I share. I am not a fan of long-term solitude. I have had the pleasure of enjoying many wonderful places and sights in my life so far, from a space shuttle launch on a beach in Florida, to rock climbing and rappelling down a cliff, to standing at the base of the Statue of Liberty. I’ve attended a Broadway musical and skinny-dipped in a secluded mountain stream. I’ve even been to Disney World. But those were all experiences that I did alone, or surrounded by strangers. And when I compare them to the more simple experiences I have had the privilege of sharing with my children or with good friends, the lonely experiences, while amazing and memorable, do not even begin to compete.

        I do not know what it takes to live the happiest life, or the most fulfilling life, or the most meaningful life. But I think that a life that is disconnected from people and void of intimacy is not much more than a shell of a life. It is pretty to write about, and deep, because solitude breeds introspection and can make anyone a philosopher. But no matter how celebrated the Thoreaus of the world may be, I think that the lonely life is not a life well-lived.

        Okay, switching to teaching. 🙂 I enjoyed being a teacher, because for me, it was easy to do. It was also rewarding, because I had the privilege of working with very low-income families, and I really felt as though my work made a difference, not only for the children, but often for their parents as well. I really do miss that. However, it is true that teaching pays very little yet requires a great deal of effort and organization to do well. I was “prepared” for that, but not really. It is very, very hard to sustain your family on a teacher’s salary — especially a preschool teacher. Just a sad reality of life. And so the teachers who loved their jobs return to school to become PC Support Technicians instead. 😉

      • Good point, it’s always better to share things, provided the company is agreeable. Even surfing, the pinnacle of all human experience (!), is better when you’re out in the waves with a couple close friends/family, celebrating each other’s takeoffs and rides. To clarify, my impression is that Audrey didn’t have total solitude on her summer trips to Alaska, and she also expressed loneliness. Perhaps that’s why she wrote the book, to share those experiences. I think it wasn’t her desire to go alone, it was more an attitude of “I’m not going to not go just because I can’t find a good companion to go with me.”

        How do you balance the introvert’s need for solitude and alone time to recharge with the desire to connect and share experiences?

      • I don’t. That is the least balanced part of my life. I am alone for most of the day, every day, and every other weekend. I’m not working right now, my classes will be mostly online, and ai have no social outlets besides occasional indoor soccer games (where I don’t speak much – just play). I don’t do online forums or anything, though I used to. I Tweet quite a bit, though that is one-sided, as is blogging, for the most part. Nope, no balance. I occasionally talk to my mother or one of my sisters on the phone from time to time, so I guess that counts.

      • Ahh, I see. It sounds like your life at the moment is well out of balance in that area, and relatively isolated. My life has been out of balance in the opposite direction – too much interaction, and rarefly a peaceful solitary moment to read and relax and reflect. I used to have a pretty good balance. In law school I had classes most mornings, and we’d talk about all the interesting cases we had read, and then in mid-afternoon I would go for a jog in the foothills on the edge of Albuquerque that lead up to the wilderness and the mountains, or else I’d go to a park around the corner from my apartment and practice soccer in the sunshine. The weather there is so beautiful, and it was wonderful to be outside every day. I also rode my bike to school, so I had that also.

        Then when I moved to Dallas I was studying for the bar exam, and that was wonderful too. There was a bar review class from 9:00 to 12:30, and then I would come home, go for a long jog on the dirt roads along the Trinity River. My body responds well to the summer heat, my muscles feel loose and it was really nice after sitting in class for 3 or 4 hours. Then I could walk to the farmer’s market, get fresh corn on the cob, peaches, watermelon, cherries, or green beans, and cook a nice healthy meal, and then do some studying in the evening for a couple hours.

        But once I started working at the law firm, balance evaporated. I thought I would be able to go for runs at lunch time, but my lunches were almost always booked with firm events – there were always business development/community events to attend, CLEs, section meetings, lunches for someone’s birthday or “internal networking,” and then after work there were lots of happy hours, community organization events, recruiting events all summer long, dinners with clients … endless socializing and small talk, not at all enjoyable for me. And now the kids require tremendous time and energy and engagement after work. So even though my work is much more sustainable and I get breaks at lunch, I feel almost more drained than before. The school workload here is so heavy – I don’t remember this much homework when I was in high school. So I’m re-learning algebra, functions, slope equations, linear regression equations, inequalities, etc. to help Marcus with math, and World Geography is a really interesting class but also requires a lot of work, and there’s Spanish to practice, plus generally good English materials to read and biology to study. And there’s soccer practice 2-3 times per week, and I have indoor soccer games on Mondays, plus there are outdoor games on weekends, and Marcus and Marcel also have indoor games scattered throughout the week. But the bane of my existence is the commute. The traffic is terrible, and I waste at least 10 hours per week on it. So I’m hopeful that if I can finish remodeling my loft in the next couple weeks, move out my stuff and put it on the market, and buy a house close to work, everything will suddenly become manageable? Maybe that’s wishful thinking LOL.

      • I think that I would dislike long commutes for that reason. When it comes to family life, they are a thief of time. It is so important to have moments together that are not just about homework and household chores (in fact, I am in the middle of writing a blog entry about this very topic).

        As an introvert, I absolutely understand how there could be an opposite social imbalance. The idea of spending every waking moment in situations of interacting with other people sounds exhausting, and to me, terrifying. In addition to being an introvert, I am also very insecure and timid.

        Wow…$500,000. That is far more money than I would ever know what to do with. Okay then, of course I would do the obvious — eliminate debt, get my 14-yr. old van repaired, and then set aside a comfortable amount for my children’s college education. And then, I don’t know.Travel is about the only thing that strikes my imagination.There are many countries I would love to explore with my kids (England, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Japan…this is a long list), I would especially love to do a literary and film tour, visiting places that were settings from great books and films. I know, maybe that is kind of cheesy. But to visit the places that inspired Dickens and Rowling and Ingmar Bergman and Neruda and Shakespeare and Austen…wow!

        I would also love to visit more places in the U.S. I have never once been down south, even though my mother has lived there for many years now. I would love to visit her in Louisiana and explore our family roots in Mississippi and Georgia, then Indiana and Ohio. I would love to have a better camera to take photos of all of these places — maybe take pics of people and places from around the family tree to put in my Ancestry record to share with relatives. And one of these days, I would like to join my sister and her family on one of their trips to Hawaii to visit with her husband’s family. They invite us every time, but I always have to decline.

        Would I use some of the funds for my own education? That is a hard question to answer. I have already begun to head down a path toward a career that I can feel comfortable with, so I would prefer to follow through and be the best Techie that I can possibly be. 🙂 I have never really been a very career-oriented person. My focus is so much more on raising my little family. My dream career of being a published author — well, I no longer know where I am with that. My other dream career was that of librarian, but with so many government budget cuts, it is just not a wise direction.

        That is all I can come up with right now. Maybe it is dull, I don’t know. But again, there are dreams that used to sound amazing to me that now only sound like selfish, lonely, pointless adventures. They may make me feel happy for a few moments, but in the end, what good do they do? I have no interest in going hang gliding or kayaking just to brag about it or to pat myself on the back. If it is not connected to relationships, or to helping people, or to bring happiness to someone who is not just me, or something like that, then it doesn’t seem rewarding.

      • One relatively recent shift for me has been my educational goals. I love learning, and I want to be a lifelong learner. But I’ve realized over the past couple years that that doesn’t mean I need to go to formal classes or live in a college town, which used to be my ideal. There are so many great classes online (I’m a fan of The Great Courses, which I can download – I used to buy them on cassette tape, then CD, then DVD, and now they’re available electronically), and so many great books to read – it seems like anything I want to learn about is accessible either online or in a book that I can order online and have within a week or so.

        I like thinking about what I would do if I had $500,000 because it sometimes help me reconnect with my true passions. But for now I’m also taking joy in small things. I was on my way to pick up the boys from soccer practice, and there was a terrible accident on the freeway, which caused another bad accident two cars in front of me, so I immediately got off the freeway going in the wrong direction, and got on to some local farm-to-market roads, and wound my way around to find my way to the elementary school where the kids practice. It was nothing big, just a mini 15-minute adventure, but I was free from sitting in traffic and I was exploring, and it felt great.

        Another recent victory is that I recently got hit in my 1997 Honda Accord – I was turning left with a green turn signal, and a guy in a pick-up came through the intersection and hit the back half of the car. It happened so suddenly, it was very jarring. It was 6:30 a.m. and I was on auto pilot driving to the freeway, and I never expected him to come through the intersection. Anyway, the Honda may or may not be totaled – I need to check with some junk yards to see if I could get a new axle. I found a new bumper, rear quarter panel and trunk with light assembly for a couple hundred dollars. Anway, in the meantime I’m driving my old 1982 Ford Van, which is great for remodeling and surf camping trips, but gets terrible gas mileage. I bought it for $100 and it has served me well, but daily commuting is not very ideal for it. Anyway, last summer some teeanages slashed the tires and smashed one of the big side windows. They shattered the window, but it didn’t completely fall apart. I replaced the tires, but the window has been hard to find. I had temporarily taped it in place, but the sun heated the tape and it all fell apart. So yesterday I took an old cardboard box, taped that to the inside of the van, and then made a solid duct-tape patch on the outside of the window opening, with rows starting at the bottom so they will shed water, just like shingles on a roof. It only cost me 1 roll of tape, and it’s a huge improvement, plus there are no glass slivers falling into the back of the van where it’s easy for the kids to get glass splinters. I’m very pleased with my handiwork – it’s funny how a small project like that can give me a great feeling of satisfaction.

      • Lol! That sounds like the type of band-aid measure I would take; not because it would bring me satisfaction, but because I know zilch about repairing vehicles and often can’t afford to have repairs done until I save for a long time.

        I dislike dreaming about what I would do if I were wealthy. Wealth is just one of many things that is so unattainable for me that it is not even worth dreaming about. Dreaming is fun for a minute or two, but then it only reminds me of what I cannot have, or should not have.

      • For some odd reason, I really want to learn how to fix cars, and eventually restore an old truck. I know absolutely nothing about it, but I just feel drawn to it. And I’d also like to learn to weld, and do the upholstery, and use wood for interior details. I like working on bicycles, and there’s something about old-fashioned mechanical stuff that I like – also old bridges and the cool old aqueduct to Rome. But for now I’m very pleased with my cardboard & duct tape window. 🙂

        It’s interesting about wealth. When I think of what I would do if I had more money, I mostly think of living a simpler life, getting rid of stuff, having fewer hassles, less stress – I think I hold on to too much stuff as kind of a safety net, as though I might need it if I couldn’t afford to get what I really needed. If I think of financial security, I imagine feeling comfortable getting rid of all my stuff and all the clutter, and only keeping the things I really value, like certain items of clothing, books, etc.

      • Now that sounds more like me. We don’t own very many things. We have one television (the old, boxy kind), a few toys, gear for camping, and inexpensive bicycles. Before we moved, I happily gave away or threw away most of our old belongings, because really, they did not add value to our lives, so why keep them? We even gave away a few hundred books, and books are probably my most treasured possession. It is much easier to maintain a clean and organized home with less “stuff,” so in that sense, having far less has made life much better.

        We live in a small home, too, by most people’s standards, but it is clean and bright and comfortable, and to my kids and me, the amount of space feels just right. So it is hard to imagine wanting more. That is one reason why it is so hard to imagine suddenly being affluent. While I can admire other people’s beautiful homes and fancy cars and expensive designer goods, I don’t feel envious or dream of having the same. I already have the things that our family needs.

        Even the dreams of travel are unnecessary. Like I said, I have already been to many places and seen many wonderful things — great cities and beaches on both coasts, and Yellowstone, and The Grand Canyon, etc. If I knew that I were going to die tomorrow, I would not be filled with regret for not ever having traveled outside of the country, or even for not having friends or a partner. (I have had those before, too, and the endings were so painful and horrible and traumatic that I can never face that again. I have come to accept that a person like me is just not meant to have meaningful relationships with people). I’ve lived enough life for several lifetimes. Now my purpose is to make sure that my children get a chance to do the same, and perhaps even more. My time is over.

      • BTW, I think that fixing up old cars, etc. is a really great hobby — and useful, too. 🙂 I think that there is something almost spiritual about working with one’s own hands, and making something beautiful out of nothing, whether that is fixing up vehicles, or restoring abandoned houses, or painting a beautiful picture on a blank canvas.

  2. On a more cheeful note, it’s a gorgous sunny day here in Dallas, a bit brisk at 55 degrees, and should be a relatively relaxed weekend for some soccer and fun little projects, maybe even a little cleaning and organizing 🙂

    I may even splurge on a Manchester United soccer ball – I saw a really cool one a couple months ago at the local soccer store. I’ll also hopefully have some time to read – I’m reading Cabeza de Vaca’s first-hand account of his trip to the New World in 1527. He got stranded for 6 years, lived with natives along the coast of Florida and Texas, and walked barefoot over 1,000 miles across Texas and down to central Mexico with 3 other survivors. It’s remarkable to hear about how densely the land was already populated, and all the customs and ways of living he encountered, and to reflect that this was nearly 100 years before the English settlers starting arriving in Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.

    • Still sunny here, too. 🙂 But strangely enough, my kids are all playing indoors this afternoon. I do miss the usual rain this time of year, though.

      That sounds like a good read. I am currently reading a children’s book that my 9yo begged me to read, because he loved it so much. Next, I would really like to read The Slaughterhouse Five, simply because I haven’t. I am also having a complicated, on-again off-again relationship with La Isla Bajo del Mar by Isabel Allende, which I am actually really, really enjoying, but reading in Spanish is still more taxing than relaxing, so I keep taking long breaks.

      • It sounds like your Spanish is WAY more advanced than mine. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to read a real book in Spanish and fully “get it.” I have a more modest ambition of being able to speak to people and understand them at the super mercado, the gas station, the toll booth … 🙂

      • Guess that’s the result of having so much time in isolation. 😉 I can read fluently, but slowly. If I try to read too quickly, I lose the ability to be absorbed in the story as opposed to the text. When I began the book, it was still over my head. Now it isn’t hard to understand at all. Now if it were an audiobook, that would be another story…

      • I admire your persistence and determination. And I do think producing a blog like this takes a lot of courage, to put yourself out there, not to mention all the effort and energy that go into it. Hope you have a good, long weekend – I’m off for 3 days thanks to MLK! 🙂

        Also, I got good news – I have a friend who is going to go hiking in the Ansel Adams wilderness next Labor Day, and he’s invited me to join. We’ll see how the plan develops, but I feel a real connection to the high Sierra, and it would be wonderful to spend even a few days there. 🙂 🙂

  3. Nice new post :). I don’t have a computer at home, but I ended up coming to the office today to try to get a little work done. I have a quick question – would it be possible to send me an email?

    • Well, I actually prefer to keep things public, if you don’t mind. How in the world do you manage without a computer at home? Our lives tend to revolve around wi-fi access and computer access.

      • I love spending time unplugged, and after sitting at a desk with a computer for so many of my waking hours, it’s a relief to not have to log on or check anything. I think it’s an aspect of the introverted part of my personality that I find the constant connection and constant flow of emails draining, although I do like substantive communication and connection. It’s more the “small talk” and constant flow of communcation that I need to sometimes turn off to recharge. I suppose some people feel energized by being in the mix, the excitement of a new deal or a new issue or a new business opportunity.

        I find that the introvert/extrovert dimension really resonates with me, probably because I’m on the introvert end of that spectrum. Although I did read an interesting article pointint out that most people are ambiverts, which I think is also probably accurate.

        I’ve been thinking about the other cognitive dimensions in the Jungian/Briggs-Meyers schema, and they don’t resonate quite as strongly with me, although I think there is some validity there. When it comes to information gathering, I think of myself as paying attention to facts and data. But I realize that’s a bit of a red herring. I actually love the theoretical underpinnings, or the story, or the larger narrative that explains things. The facts by themselves don’t have much meaning for me, but rather the way that they all fit together. And it’s the larger understanding, the flash of insight, the theory with great explanatory power that brings together seemingly diverse events and explains them all (at least partially) in a consistent way, that is really intellectually appealing to me. That’s why I love evolution and cosmology and, even though I think we have a long way to go to understand things better, theories of physics and the universe and relativity and black holes. I love all those ideas. I think this is what they would label in the personality type as Intuititive, rather than Sensing, although I think that’s a pretty misleading label.

        I think this process of seeking patterns in information may be my dominant cognitive function – I seem to be drawn to it. And I also have a slant of attention toward future possibilities – I’m a bit of a day dreamer. I think those qualities all kind of go together.

        When it comes to the dimension of decision-making and forming judgments, I’ve always thought of myself as more of a thinker and less of a feeler. I also tend to think through my feelings, which is a signature trait of thinking types. I actually think judgments are important – particularly developing the skill of good judgment. At the same time, I like the whole buddhist concept of learning to be non-judgmental, or at least recognizing when our strongly held beliefs that feel almost instinctive and “right” are actually just our own internal judgments, neither right nor wrong.

        But there’s also the concept of the “shadow,” or subconscious form, of these dimensions. And there’s a part of my decision-making where feelings do play a role. As the oldest brother of 5 kids, I was always taking into account the feelings of everyone else and finding a good solution, or at least a compromise, that we could all be happy with. And the same goes for my parenting now. In addition, there are certain dreams and ways of life that really appeal to me on a deep level, not because of any rational thought but because I feel deeply drawn to them. So I feel like underneath the active, thinking decsion-making process, there’s a layer where I would like my life path to reflect my deeper passions, which in a way boil down to the way I feel about things. Sometimes it’s a visceral reaction to things, sometimes it’s just experiencing something and knowing that it “feels right.”

      • The weekend was filled with small successes – catching up on sleep primary among them. I also splurged on the Man. U. ball, despite their loss to Jose Murhino’s side, and we used the ball at my indoor soccer game last night (which was way too late, 10:45 p.m. start so I’m tired again today). There’s a minor miracle afoot – Marcel has found the first book that he likes and wants to read. It’s Ibrahimovic’s autobiography. Ibra has had quite a journey, from an immigrant slum in Sweden (his parents are Bosnian and Croation), where as a brown person and an outsider he felt like a misfit and a second class citizen, to a top soccer club in Sweden and then on to Ajax and Italy, where he become one of the best footballers in the world, a one-year stint in Spain, back to Italy and now to France. For 11 years in a row, the team he played for won the championship in their country every year except 1. He had ADHD as a kid, did terribly in school, broke rules, got kicked off teams, got yelled at all the time, was always in trouble, had his bicycle stolen and then started stealing other people’s bicycles (which he would ride to soccer practice and then return). Marcel identifies strongly with him :).

        We also cut down the small, dead tree in the middle of the back yard and finished assembling a soccer goal that was a christmas present, so now there’s a good little area for the kids to practice shooting and play small-sided games with their friends. Within minutes after finishing the goal and putting on the net, there were 5 or 6 kids in the backyard playing – if you build it, they will come.

        Outdoor soccer starts next week, and I just found out that we’re going to continue playing indoor for another 10-week season. I thought we would just go back to playing outdoor, I didn’t realize indoor would continue in the spring. I’m really excited because indoor is just my size – I can run around a lot, gasping for breath and sweating, but I don’t have to run the full length of an outdoor field. It’s more like a 3 yard burst or a 5 yard burst most of the time. I love to run, and I’ve always been one of the most active, fit players, running up and down the field from the center midfield position, one of those “high work rate” players. But my knees started hurting a couple years ago, and it’s really tough now. I’ve never had any knee problems, but now they just hurt, and I can feel the tendons and ligaments on the inside and outside, especially the outside. It even hurts to ride my bike. I had been hoping that since bike riding is low impact it would be the solution, but it seems impact is not the issue. It feels like the twisting and turning are the movements that are hardest on my knees, but of course that’s what soccer’s all about – cutting and turning and bursts of speed. And then on the bike I think the issues is bending my knees to an acute angle. I’m hopeful that if I get really fit and lose weight, so I’m really, really slim and fit, then maybe there will be less strain on my knees and I could run again – I dream of trail running, just relaxed in the sun, gliding along, absorbing the peace and solitude.

      • Sounds like a productive and fun weekend (except for cutting down the tree…not so fun). 🙂 Sorry to hear about the knee issues. Running and soccer can take quite a toll on the body, and it’s difficult when something doesn’t work well. It could be one of those aging things that you have to grudgingly accept. I used to have a bad knee when I was very overweight. I thought it was arthritis. But after losing a lot of weight, the pain went away. Guess you never know.

        My weekend was anything but productive, unless you count keeping my home clean. I pretty much played games, read, and watched movies or sports for 3 days. And then, all my favorite athletes lost or tied. :/ Well, except for Nadal and Federer. At least they are still going strong.

      • Your weekend sounds delightful to me – perfectly relaxing and enjoyable, and “productive” in that sense. 🙂

        I’m holding out hopes that if I lose 40 pounds, my knees will stop hurting. I think it’s a real possibility. But I agree, swimming would be ideal – I’ve been thinking about that also.

        When I step back and think about education, I feel like reading is so important – maybe the most important thing to develop, because once you can read and you learn that it’s enjoyable, you can learn almost anything else later in life. Whether it’s car mechanics or art history or evolutionary biology, it’s pretty much all in print somewhere. And for me, since reading has been one of my greatest pleasures in life, I’m heavily biased in favor of reading. But it can be a really tough sell to kids, especially with all the electronics and endless forms of entertainment that all seem “easier” than the effort required to read. But I don’t think there’s anything quite like reading, once a kids learns to do it, because there’s so much content and imagination and information that are hard to get through any other channel. And it can be so relaxing after a long day to just curl up in bed with a good book and read until falling asleep. I also feel that if I lived somewhere less developed, with fewer entertainment options, reading would be a much easier sell. Of if I took the kids hiking on the PCT one summer, it would be such a pleasure to relax and read in the late afternoon.

        One of the struggles I have with electronics is that the kids listen to music on them, and I’m sympathetic to that because I love music, and it’s been really important to me, at least since 6th grade, so I hate to take that away. But if I don’t take away the electronics, then they don’t read, and they sit around playing games and watching inappropriate videos (sometimes terribly inappropriate), and I feel like there’s an addictive quality to it.

        BTW, there’s a nice TED talk on the power of introverts – Susan Cain is pretty amusing about it: http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

        I think analyzing and leading an examined life are wonderful qualities. The last thing humans need is more people who just relax and enjoy life and overconsume and destroy the planet (along with all the other species) while having a good time and a good party. I wish more people were more reflective and introspective and analytical. And I think most of us, or at least most people who are thoughtful and introspective, reach a point in life where they do wonder what the point of it all is. So many of the things that so many people work so hard for – and kill for in many parts of the world – really are shallow and meaningless.

      • True, the things that many people focus on are shallow and seemingly meaningless. On the other hand, I have a very, very hard time judging someone else’s life choices if their choices truly bring them and their loved ones happiness. The examined or cynical life is, I think, a trade-off for happiness and lasting satisfaction. And really, what is more important?

        I would love to see our culture shift away from thoughtlessness, over-consumption, and self-absorption that leads people to splurge on temporary pleasures instead of save for a rainy day; ignore those in need, and echo the opinions and thoughts of others instead of their own original ideas. But I have no super-hero solutions. I’m not a world-changer. My sphere of influence doesn’t travel much further than my own 3 kids (and clearly, my influence is not that strong, if I can’t get them excited about sports, Asian cuisine, and good literature, haha).

      • You’re right – what else is there that’s noble and good in the world besides sports, Asian cuisine and good books!!!!!!!!!!

      • That sounds like a good biography for a high school kid to read. It’s always good when there is something in the story to which the reader can relate. My high schooler is a tough sell when it comes to books. I can’t seem to convince him to read anything outside of school, though during summer vacations, I require him to read before starting his screen time. I know, maybe it is just a losing battle. So many adults simply do not read for pleasure, and perhaps he will become one of them. My younger two are much more enthusiastic about books.

        What a packed schedule you guys will have, with indoor and outdoor soccer at the same time! Our schedule is the opposite right now, which makes me feel antsy. My daughter doesn’t start indoor soccer until March, and there is simply nothing for my sons right now, since one hates sports and the other is indifferent, and neither is particularly athletic.The teen did agree to let me sign him up for tennis lessons,with parks & rec though, which I hope to do whenever I can manage to save the money. Until then, we just play for fun in the park.

        I was thinking about your knee issues again. Do you have some way to incorporate swimming into your routine, since it’s a non-impact sport?

      • I can understand that, the need to unplug and refresh after using computers all day. For me, the computer really is my only regular link to life beyond the walls of my home, other than reading books or occasional outings and errands. I can also understand how one could grow exhausted by a constant flow of communication. For me, however, my computer use is hardly ever for two-way communication. I write a lot, job hunt, research, tweet thoughts and jokes into the universe, read, play games, pay bills, listen to music, etc. Of course, I don’t just sit in front of the screen all day, either. 🙂 I do a lot of cleaning and cooking, and go for runs, walks, or bike rides to break the monotony and get out of the house.

        How interesting that you are the oldest of 5 kids. Do you feel that your birth order has affected much of your personality and choices in life? I was number 4 of 5, and the youngest girl. Not sure how this affected me. I think that I was destined to be independent and detached from my family culture no matter where I fell in the the birth order. Not sure how much of that was nature vs. nurture.

        I don’t like to spend too much energy dwelling on my being an introvert. I label myself jokingly, because we live in such a world where our labels and associations are overvalued. Introvert or extrovert, republican or democrat, black or white, shy or outgoing, lazy or hard-working…But personalities, like every other genetic or learned trait, fall within a spectrum, and it is so silly for us to think that we can package them in a box. It is fun at first, but stifling when we expect ourselves to always fit inside that box. I have taken the actual Briggs-Meyer test twice (not counting the mini-quizzes online). The first time was more than a decade ago, when my life was very different, and I was not an INTJ, but something very different. (I think it was ISFJ, though I’m not sure. Something about being “the nurturer”). Go figure.

        It is fine to be a dreamer. We need dreamers and visionaries in this world to remind us of the ideals that society could reach if we refuse to settle for the status quo. It can also be healthy to dream of a better future for you or your family, or of goals that you hope to accomplish during your lifetime. I used to be more of that kind of dreamer, but…well, I don’t know. Somewhere along the way, dreaming about “something better” began to feel so pointless. I began to question why. Why do I want to travel there, or learn this skill, or master this hobby? To serve myself? (Selfish). To brag to others? (Shallow). To escape real life? (Unfulfilling). Now I feel like Solomon. “It is all meaningless. A chasing after the wind.” Again, I think that outside of the context of real, authentic relationships with people, every dream and goal that I can conjure up seems meaningless.

        I know, this is a very negative way to see things, and I wish that I knew how to be like other people, to just relax and enjoy life more without so much analyzing. But I don’t know how.

  4. I think birth order is very interesting. But I’m not sure how it affected me. I think it might have been a little different in my family because I grew up with a single mom, and she needed a lot of help raising the kids, so I really grew up as the father in the house. There were 4 boys and then a girl, and my sister actually calls me dad from time to time (even though I’m only 8 years older than her). I was very much in charge in the house, I was terribly bossy, and the other kids came to me for permission to do things and for advice and help on homework and all those sorts of parental things. I had a lot of responsibility and was in the leadership position growing up, but I’ve learned over time that I don’t particularly enjoy the responsibilities of leadership. I’m capable and I can do it, but I don’t think it’s the most natural fit for me. I think it was more a case of me being thrust into that role because of the situation.

    And then my second brother is more like an oldest brother in birth order terms – sticks with the program, self-disciplined, does good work, follows through, reliable, not rebellious, not a risk taker. My third brother is the artistic, rebellious one, as would be expected. He’s a non-conformist, always coming up with interesting contrarian arguments and creative business ideas. He’s also more extroverted than I am, but I tend to think of that as a more biologically hard-wired, genetic temperment trait, rather than birth order-related. I’m somewhere in between my second and third brothers when it comes to my comfort zone with risk and the degree to which I’m a non-conformist, or at least have non-conformist ideals and ambitions.

    My fourth brother used to seem to be a big risk taker and somewhat rebellious, but he has settled into a very traditional life with a government job, living in a suburb (which he doesn’t seem to mind as much as I would), married with 2 kids. He’s not miserable but he doesn’t seem very happy or vibrant either. And then the fifth child, my sister, is maybe a bit rebellious and non-conformist. She also seems pretty fearless and adventuresome and self-aware. She spent time in Guatemala after dating a guy from Guatemala, then met a guy from Denmark Guatemala, dated him long distance for a while, moved to Denmark, got married, renounced U.S. citizenship, got divorced after 2 years or maybe a little less, stayed in Denmark, met an Italian guy who likes soccer, seems to be in a pretty solid, fun relationship with him, plays guitar, likes going out to live music and trying bakeries and cooking, teaches English. I guess she’s probably the most extroverted of us – certainly way more extroverted than I am. She seems to be having a lot of fun and really enjoying life, and she gets a lot of meaning from helping her students and being involved in environmental and social causes.

  5. BTW, I agree on the MLS – I’ve tried several times, but just haven’t been able to get into it. I even took the kids to a see a Dallas FC game last year against the NY Red Bulls with Thierry Henry (which cost the utterly outrageous price of $90 just to get in!). For some reason the MLS doesn’t seem to me to have the beauty, the passing combinations and precision, the creativity, let alone the passion that European and South American soccer have. And I’m fine with that. I think it’s kind of nice that in one area, the U.S. is trying to catch up to the rest of the world, making slow progress but still noticably behind 🙂

    • Honestly, I think that most of the MLS games I’ve watched aren’t remarkably different from most of the European and South American league games I’ve watched, with the exception of the best league teams from other countries. There is plenty of skill and artistry, and passion, too (although again, I can’t analyze and compare technique very well). I haven’t been able to get into MLS, just as I haven’t gotten into La Liga Mexicana, for example, or other leagues. There are just so many leagues out there, and only one of me. But I feel like I have a duty to try and support pro soccer here, you know?

  6. Yes, fair points.

    Another minor miracle has occurred here: Marcus has asked me, for the first time, to buy him a book. Last week it was Marcel reading the Ibrahimovic autobiography (when I was helping Marcus with World Geography homework and he was loudly complaining, Marcel actually yelled from the other room, “be quiet, I’m trying to read”), and now Marcus is interested in his first book! He wants a book called Stickman Odyssey, which looks like a re-telling of The Odyssey as a child’s version, perhaps somewhat like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series? I’m really not sure. But if he wants to read, I’m 100% in favor!

    In other news, I asked Marcel if he wants to start working out with me, lifting weights and stuff (since he’s become so committed to soccer and training). He said, “no, my muscles are already big, and I don’t want to get too bulky for soccer, ya know?” LOL. Keep in mind that he is a very skinny 12-year-old, gangly and clumsy, in the midst of a huge growth spurt which has taken him to a height of 5′ 10 1/2″ (and his feet have grown to size 11 1/2, accentuating the overall gangly impression), with no muscle definition and a little bit of chubby tummy.

    I also told him I thought we should go to Nicaragua. He said, “is that outside the United States?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “do they play soccer there?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Let’s go!”

    Also, he really wants to learn Spanish now. Soccer, reading and Spanish – all my dreams are coming true with this kid!

    • That sounds great! It’s always a good thing when a kid wants to read, and especially older boys, who are the toughest to reel in. I haven’t heard of Stick Odyssey, but if it’s at all similar to Wimpy Kid, then maybe my teen would like it, too. 5’10” is incredibly tall for a 12yo!! My teen is around 5’7″ and about average height for the guys in his freshman class. He’s also pretty stick-thin, but has no interest in weights. He also has no interest in girls or dating, so maybe those things go hand in hand?

      • Sadly, Marcel is very interested in girls! I had really hoped to put those issues off for at least a couple more years, but no luck. I’m really worried that he could get a girl pregnant over the next several years. He’s already very impulsive, and he has his ADHD issues (many times I feel like ADHD is a false diagnosis, but in his case it’s the most pronounced I’ve ever seen, almost like someone has switched a switch in his brain, especially when he’s overstimulated). He has difficulty with his behavior at school and resisting the tempation to be the class clown, use inappropriate language to crack jokes, etc. So I’m worried that he will be impulsive as he becomes sexually active, and that could create so many terribly difficult issues.

      • ADHD sounds like a tough challenge to deal with. I am a pretty patient person, but impulsive, reckless behavior really gets to me. Guess I got pretty lucky with my late bloomers. Neither of my older kids has the slightest interest in dating. Good thing, because it is such a distraction from education, and something that seems so unnecessary at this stage of life. (Unnecessary at my stage of life, too.)

      • Yes, ADHD is very challenging. I try to remember that he really cannot control himself. It’s crazy, when he gets overstimulated, he’ll do things like roll down the aisle of the grocery store or climb into the bottom area of the shopping cart and refuse to come out. And he and Marcus will do things like climb the water pipe and get on top of the roof of the school and then jump off and tear their clothes or damage their new school shoes that I just bought, and it’s like, “what in the world were you thinking???”

        Now that you mention it, dating is probably overrated at every stage of life! LOL

        It would be nice to have a couple close friendships though, without the stress and demands and conflict and effort and miscommunication associated with dating, just easy going friendships based on natural affinity and mutual understanding and shared interests.

        My dad lived on a commune in Southern Oregon, and that’s where he met his wife. I’m fairly close to one of my step-brothers. It does seem like the dynamics between the people on the commune are always tricky. But at the same time, visiting during the summer when the gardens are bursting with fresh vegetables and the peaches are ripe and the corn is good and the tomatoes are perfect, and the beautiful Smith River and Lower Illinois River are crystal clear and ideal for swimming, and the sun is out every day, it sure seems like an idyllic way to live. 🙂

      • Perhaps. And yet, I am such a realist, that I would probably miss the convenience of living within a quick bike ride to shops, libraries, etc. In fact, I spent my first year of college in the mountains, in an attempt to escape the suburbs. It was lovely, and I loved hiking to campus through the woods (except for when the snow was very deep). Being surrounded by nature was beautiful and peaceful. But to be honest, I missed the culture and movie theatres and convenient shopping of the suburbs. I also was not fond of the small-minded bigotry that still exists in certain pockets of Northern California (and yes, Oregon, too).

        The antics of your boys (not sure how to refer to them. Foster children?) sound very trying. I can absolutely handle such behavior in young children, because they are still so teachable. But teenagers are a whole new category for me.

      • You’re right, the suburbs are incredibly convenient. It’s shocking – an ordinary American (with an occupation like a plumber or electrician, for example) lives better than a king or queen lived a hundred years ago. First of all, we have hot water running in our houses and refrigeration – two major things they didn’t have. And then we have these grocery stores that give us access to produce from around the world – Avocados in January, mangos, artichokes and Asian pears, plus Bananas from Quito, hothouse tomatoes, strawberries from the greenhouses in Baja, and asparagus. And then we have these amazing restaurants – fresh sushi, literally caught yesterday, put on ice and flown to the city where the restaurant is. Plus we have 5-minute access to Chinese, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and numerous other types of cuisine. And we have this ability to travel anywhere in the world – Shoshon flew down to Nicaragua last weekend and is back to work on Tuesday. It’s unfathomable from the perspective of someone who would have had to take a voyage of, on average, 6 weeks to travel between New York and London, and the time could vary from 45 days to 140 days. So the journey might take 8 or 9 weeks longer than expected! And the journey itself was miserable, traveling roughly 5 mph, in dark, musty, damp quarters, water leaking through the cracks, with nothing to eat but salted lamb, pork or fish and hardtack biscuits, foul water, no bathing except with cold salt water, no bathrooms, and one set of clothes to be worn the entire journey.

        Back to the commune: when everything is calm and relaxed on a beautiful summer day, it feels charming to walk across a foot bridge over a river and then hike a half mile to the cabin. But when it’s pouring rain or freezing cold and there’s an emergency, no beuno!

        And yes, there’s definitely a strong redneck element in rural Oregon and California. Those small towns and rural areas are really slow to change.

      • The antics of the boys don’t bother me too much, most of the time. I certainly do lose my patience sometimes. But mostly I’m frustrated with their parents for being irresponsible and not training them or teaching them when they were young. I feel like I have a clearer understanding of the cycle of poverty and why upward socioeconomic mobility is so difficult (a subject I’ve been interested in as long as I can remember – I even wrote my college thesis on it). When a kid doesn’t have good parents, and doesn’t get read to before bed, and doesn’t have windows opening to all the different areas of human knowledge and intellectual ideas, then the kid doesn’t know that those worlds exist, and has no idea how interesting and exciting they can be. And in that vacuum, the most exciting, fun things to do are the things that their peers, who also don’t have good parents and don’t have supervision, are doing. These things are almost uniformly wasteful or negative or destructive. The best options are hanging out with friends at McDonald’s, talking trash and putting each other down, playing video games and watching videos on their iPhones with titles like “Big Butt Freaks.” And their activities only get worse from there – breaking windows, “car hopping” (breaking into cars and stealing the change), smoking weed, taking xanex, dropping mollys, sneaking out, running away from home and couch surfing at friends’ houses …

        So I’ve had to win their trust so I could learn all these things that they really do, and only then can I replace those activities with healthier, more constructive things, like playing soccer, going on surf camping trips, reading and maybe paying for them to go to a movie on Friday night with their friends.

        It’s a slow process of reigning them in and re-training them, teaching them a different way to live, and slowly replacing bad habits with healthier habits. I’ve been working on it for more than 3 years now, sometimes in despair, and only now am I starting to see some results – them actually wanting to read a book on their own is a huge milestone! 🙂

      • Yeah…when I was teaching in the public schools, a huge part of my job was to help to break the cycle of poverty through child and parent education. It’s not easy. The earlier one can intervene, the more success you can potentially have. But no matter the age, I think the most important thing is constantly helping kids to understand how much you care — that you are tough on them because you love them, and that you are their #1 fan. I sometimes ask my teen, “Would you prefer that I am the type of parent who grounds you for your wrong choices, or the type who lets you do whatever you want?”

        Getting kids involved in positive pastimes really is important. And yes, it is great to encourage them to do positive things with their friends, like going to the movies. Better than brainless and possible dangerous fun (though to be fair, even affluent, well-raised kids can fall in with the wrong crowd and/ or engage in risky or stupid behaviors, too).

        I imagine it is very difficult to raise someone else’s children, especially when they are older kids and teens, and especially when they were initially raised with a very different parenting style and values than yours. But I think it is an admirable thing to do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s