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Zen and the Art of the Teeter-Totter

On March 30, 2011, in Lifestyle, by Meghan
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I possess fond memories of monkey-bar swinging, merry-go-rounding, and swinging around in playgrounds with my older brother, Corey. At one playground, I recall him yelling for my attention from atop a tall slide. I turned to look at him just in time to see him fall off, head-first. This knocked him briefly unconscious, but he awoke smiling by the time I retrieved my parents. Under another piece of playground equipment and in whispers, Corey taught me the curse words he was learning at school. Then, he dared me to scream the F word at the top of my lungs. Because I worshiped my brother (Still do.), I ignored the inner voice of morality and yelled real loud (In case you’re wondering, my parents grounded me when they heard my R-rated announcement.).

My brother and I also loved playing together on the teeter-totter. I’d excitedly climb on my end, hold on tight, giggle until my sides hurt, and seesaw wildly through the air. Always a bit heavier than me, Corey had full control over our balancing act by wiggling forward and backward on his side of the simple machine. In those days, it mattered not to me whether I was up or down. Either place, every place, felt like the right place.

There’s no class in high school and, certainly, no professor at college whose job it is to keep you kid-like and uncaring about your position on life’s proverbial teeter-totter. And, when you enter The Real World of adulthood, we grown-ups must further learn about structure and seriousness in order to keep jobs and just plain survive. Being a responsible adult in our culture is all about having full control over that seesaw.

To retain any childhood qualities beyond age 25 is either a stroke of dumb luck or fervent intention. To make matters worse for me, I was one of those goody two-shoes girls who behaved almost perfectly in school, absorbed as much as my cerebral synapses would allow, and forced more in through rote memorization. This is to say that I drank heartily from the cup of regimen and, thus, came to believe that willy-nilly teeter-totter play belonged back in the old days of childhood.

While Ubehebe Crater's edge in Death Valley National Park may truly be a dangerous place, living near life's edge is what I call really living.

I spent the majority of my twenties and a bit of my earliest thirties in a state of moderate confusion (Don’t we all, I suppose?). Life felt like a long series of straight hallways and sharp-cornered paths, but everything I had learned as a kid showed me that the fun bits are the curviest ones.

My confusion-based twenties were further perpetuated by my father. He retired from his one-career adult life the minute I graduated from college and he had one less responsibility (If you think I’m kidding, check my graduation and his retirement dates. They are within one week of each other.). In the few years of post-career freedom he had before passing away, he became a seeming kid again, traveling the world, volunteering, and creating a playful life. Over and again, he’d admonish, “You don’t have to have one career like me. You don’t have to wait until retirement to have fun. Do what makes you happy everyday, and the rest will come.”

Most of the world doesn’t talk to grown-ups the way my father did to his twenty-something daughter, however. For all of the things I enjoyed about the job I left in Yosemite National Park, for example, one thing that made me unhappy was its two weeks of annual vacation. Only two weeks! Though totally normal for many jobs in our country, this was torment for me. I lived in one of our country’s most beautiful places but I had so little free time to enjoy it. And, forget about having much space for seeing the rest of the world’s cool stuff.

Lately, I’ve been working on becoming the little-girl version of myself again. What this means is that I’ve been trying to carve out a new reality of equal parts work and play. A life where I also just hang onto the seesaw and ride. It’s fun, oh lordy is it fun!

I’ve somehow made enough money to survive (Not thrive, mind you, but survive. I should say that I’m a pretty simple girl and survive is close to fine by me.). I’ve also had lots of play (If my memory serves me, five vacations in six months of working in my little, independent niche.). Sometimes, creating this new reality has been like shoving a square peg into a round hole. Other times, it’s been rather scavenger hunt-like, looking eagerly around the next corner or week to see what sort of surprise might be waiting there.

Freedom to be exactly what you want is supreme finery. And so is that wild teeter-totter ride.

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19 Responses to “Zen and the Art of the Teeter-Totter”

  1. Paige T. says:

    ๐Ÿ™‚ This is a smiley post. Must seek out a teeter-totter now! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Danni says:

    Wurda! Unfortunately for me I like my career so I’ll try to have it all for as long as I can :p

  3. Freedom, freedom, FREEDOM!! I’m a supporter of your father’s theory and all the fun that comes with it. Seems pretty simple, so we’re jumpin’ on that choo-choo train! Yeah! Glad it’s bringing you some supreme finery.

  4. Olga says:

    Your father was a great man, and a very smart man. Because he had emplyed his own theory once he had his main responsibility take care of its own. As I said many times, that’s my plan. Watch me in 3 years and 2 months (and that’s when high school is over, because college is not mandatory and only partially my problem).

    • Meghan says:

      Olga, he was super smart! I’m so grateful for his dedication because it allowed me a great childhood. And, without it, I would be a different kind of adult. His uber-dedication has provided for/paved the way for my freedom. Oh and, by the way, you go girl! I can’t wait to see what’s on your docket in a few year’s time!

  5. Danielle says:

    Ah, the freedom acquired when one realizes that the world is in fact shades of grey as opposed to all black and white! How fun it has been for me to watch you spread your wings on your adult playground. Your father was wise, I’m glad he shared his insight with you – what a gift. <3

    • Meghan says:

      Danielle, he was wise! Though he’s not alive, he’s still making me smarter, too. Thanks to you for being a part of my life all these years!

  6. Ewa says:

    Most of us, and that sadly includes me, are afraid of taking a chance. I have a son, I have a responsibility to him – I tell myself. That thought alone has stopped me many times from living.
    I wonder if I will find the courage to do what your father did when he graduates from college. Oh, that’s quite a few years away. He is only 15.

    • Meghan says:

      Ewa, maybe you don’t see it as much, but I feel a strong sense of adventure and dreamy spirit in your life, as documented in your blog. A common theme is lightness and play. I’m inspired by it, so I hope you can recognize that it’s there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Gretchen says:

    Hooray for teeter-totters! Now if you could please write the follow-up post about the importance of the partner who teeters on the other end of your totter, that would be lovely. I suspect you’d have brilliant things to say. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Keith says:

    Reading this makes me stronger! Can’t wait to ‘bounce’ you accross the Teeter Totter!

    Love,

    Keith

  9. Hello, Keith has lightness AND play!

  10. JeffO says:

    @Ewa, living true to your responsibility to your kids is not fear-of-living. Being afraid for your kids sake is not the same as being afraid to live. Raising kids may seem drab and ordinary, because so many people do it, but raising kids is an adventure to itself. It’s just not an “exotic” adventure.
    Meghan, you have such a way to make us flood our minds with memories and to see the same-old in new ways.

    • Meghan says:

      Aw JeffO, that’s such excellent advice for Ewa and other mothers and fathers out there who are doing the adventure of parenting. And, thanks for the sweet compliment, too!

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