Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End


August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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The Book of Life

The Book of Life

Halloween had all the markings of a disaster in our town this year: snow was falling and the wind was gusting up to 45 mph.

Our family looked out the window and decided to throw in the towel. Oscar is getting too old for trick-or-treating, anyway, and Simon and Lucy are too temperate to risk pneumonia for some Tootsie Rolls and Sweet-n-Sours. We did want to mark the holiday with a fun family outing, so we decided to go to a movie, and allowed the kids to pick out their own theater candy. We saw the new animated feature, The Book of Life.

There are moments in family life when a plan goes terribly, terribly wrong—that happens often, and is good fodder for blog posts for us. But occasionally, there are also moments when everything clicks to produce a beautiful experience. Thanks to this film, our alternative Halloween was one of these beautiful experiences.

The story for the movie has to do with the Latino tradition of the Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), which draws upon the feasts of All Saints and All Souls in the Church to celebrate the communion of saints. The plot line has characters entering the afterlife in pursuit of love, encountering deceased family members, and confronting evil. It was a funny, exciting, and beautiful film.

Most of all, though, it was a thoroughly Christian film, even though the only overtly religious figures—a priest and some nuns—served as only background characters. The characters moved through a Christian world in the presentation of death and the afterlife. Finding deceased loved ones in the “land of the remembered” was the ultimate fiesta, for example, and this communion of love beyond death colored everything—it freed the main character to live fully and authentically and fearlessly.

We all came out of the film uplifted, and the experience utterly recast the feast of All Hallow’s Eve for us. Halloween has its origin as the vigil for the great feast of All Saints (“all hallowed” refers to “all the holy ones”), so I was very grateful to avoid all the zombies and superheroes wandering the streets in search of free candy, and instead consider death through the lens of faith and love.

After the movie, we used the opportunity to call to mind those in our own family who are in the “land of the remembered.” We had the kids recall the grandparents they have known who have passed, and Stacey and I spoke about the grandparents who we remember, but who died before the kids could get to know them. We even recalled two special lives in our own family who were lost to miscarriage—it was a nice moment for the children to call to mind their siblings who are still a part of our family, even though we cannot see them with us now.

November is a good time to turn our minds to the end of things. The natural world is passing away before us in preparation for winter—trees are diminishing before our very eyes and even the daylight is dying slowly. Soon it will be time to recall the source of our hope and to prepare, through Advent, for his coming into our lives. But for now, we remember the faithful departed, and draw courage from our communion with them and the continuity of life beyond death.


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