Broken Arrow 1: Like Protecting an Ugly Sandcastle From a Rising Tide

One of the best things a father can do is really enjoy building a decent sandcastle on the beach with his three kids.  Get into it.  My wife, Armelle, often sits under a hat or a parasol and reads or works crossword puzzles, while I motivate the kids for the sandcastle project.

Getting totally into it... that's the secret to sand castles.  If you are doing it by rote, as some kind of obligation, without passion or inspiration, the kids will pick up on that and you are finished within an hour.   My best sandcastles got all 3 kids involved, and kept them involved.  The castles meant something to me, and to the kids, even though I knew what happens to sandcastles.

One or two times I remember pretty vividly.   Nine or ten years ago, the kids were probably four and eight (times two), or three and seven.  As every summer, it took place in Le Barcares France, where my wife's parents (French Catalans) purchased a condo.
from wikipedia commons, mail order
One of the special sandcastles was a first "history lesson" for the kids.   I started by making a tiny compound and told them, "this is how people lived about three thousand years ago".  There was a garden, and some huts, and a well.   Then I told about how someone takes charge and organizes, motivates, leads... I don't really believe people in villages simultaneously decide to build a wall to protect their garden, or a silo for their grain.  I suspect it takes a person with a vision, someone to convince people to work a little harder, save a little more, defer gratification.

The sand grain silo became a tower, and the walls became a fortess, as people realize that deferring and saving makes a tasty target for theft and raids.   I talked about feudal systems with the kids, and "land lords".  The ones who built the castles offered protection in a raid, and a fortress silo was like a bank.

We built moats, and trenches, and roads.  The history of Europe sandcastle continued to grow for 3-4 hours, and my kids were into it.  They felt some kind of history or ownership, like they had know the castle for generations, for a thousand years.

You build up a strong memory, a great day, a memory the kids share.  It must have been 2003 or 2004.  I had a brand new Sony CD disc camcorder, the replacement for the 1998 Sony tape model (the kind that could "see through clothing"), which was fancier but required special little discs and had Sony software that did not play well with Microsoft.

If you've had this experience I'm describing, where you devote your passion and energy to a sandcastle, and build a partnership with your children over it, you know what happens.  The tide comes back, and dinner awaits.   The very first time you do it, the kids all participated in building the castle without really knowing, as the father does, what the outcome for sandcastles is.

Good Point Recycling Unheated Warehouse 2003
You can build a reef, you can build a canal.  You can shovel sand in front, between your castle and the waves.  But eventually the tide becomes harder and  harder to beat.    And after your sandcastle takes a couple of dings from the water... it starts to look a little uglier.

It's hard to motivate the kids to fight and protect an ugly sandcastle.

It's super hard to protect one you never cared about in the first place.  Rather, it's not hard at all, because you really don't try.  It's just faster to failure.

Hopefully, your kids, in trying to help you protect the sandcastle, are demonstrating they valued your time together building it, talking about it, learning all the "then what happens" of history.  You hope they learned the little lesson of the history of "church and state" in European castle building, a little bit about vikings and barbarians.  And that they have fun in the water, trying to protect the sandcastle from washing away.

Building a business in Vermont is not exactly like building a sandcastle.  But the important thing is what the ten years of building it meant, it's about the day building the sandcastle with your kids, not about preserving molded sand, to dry and blow in the wind rather than melt and sizzle in the sea waves.

When on the beach, faced with a departure time or a hopelessly rising tide, what I usually do is "broken arrow".   Realizing the waves are unstoppable, I collect pebbles and small stones, and toss them at the sandcastle myself (usually gets the boys back into the activity if they have lost interest, my daughter is the true sandcastle believer).  

"Direct (friendly) fire to my position".

You can, for a few seconds, take a thrill from a well-slung stone, that hits the ramparts with a tiny wet "thump", crumbling the walls, wiping out the cathedral, crumbling the silo.   It teaches your kids nothing lasts forever, and taking control of your own assets does not necessarily mean keeping them.   If you have had a good time, and have a good imagination, and ideals and goals - like having a good time with your children - that transcend the physical beauty of the sandcastle, it's ok to let go.

In development, a series I've tentatively titled "Broken Arrow", about the rise and fall of electronics recycling in Vermont, and the powers of state officials to ignore their mistakes, protected from their own mistakes by a flaw in Vermont law.

No comments: