A few weeks ago, shortly before the new school year began, my wife had a conversation — let's say a "challenging" conversation — with our youngest daughter.
Our 11-year-old girl was whining about all of the things we expected her to do each day — practicing piano, completing chores and working on some summer homework books — before she was allowed to do "fun" stuff, like playing on the computer or riding her bike.
Our daughter had fallen behind on some of her required tasks due to a lack of diligence, so my wife had decided it was time to lay down the law. But no matter what my wife said, our daughter didn't seem to get it.
So, as parents often do, my wife tried to teach a larger lesson. She told our daughter that it's very important as she gets older to learn that sometimes we have to do or go through things we don't enjoy, and that she might as well start developing that skill now. She completed her speech with, "That's life."
To which our daughter promptly replied, "Life is too LIFEY!"
Since that time, "life is too lifey" has been a common statement in the Kratz household. Usually we say it when one of the kids is whining, and it immediately adds a little levity to help alleviate a tough situation.
However, during the last week, it occurred to me that our daughter offered a real nugget of insight with her simple, silly statement. The fact is, the lessons of life can be especially hard to learn, no matter what your age or situation.
For example, my oldest daughter has been learning more life lessons than she probably expected — or wanted — during the start of her sophomore year of high school.
Her life got a little too "lifey" during the summer while she was working out with the high school cross-country team. During one early morning run, she tripped on a root and fell, bending back her right foot in the process.
We thought, at first, that she had simply wrenched her foot. We iced it, and she planned to participate the next morning in the team's time trial, which would determine who made the varsity. She didn't expect that much success, but she was looking forward to seeing how much progress she had made during her first summer as a runner.
Unfortunately, the pain in her foot grew intense as she ran, and she had to walk for part of the trial. She still finished ahead of a few other runners, but we knew we needed to take her to the doctor.
A couple of weeks later, she had to start wearing a walking boot to try to allow the foot to heal. And then, last week, she found out that she will probably need surgery — just in time for her efforts to participate in the school's musical theater production. And for driver's education. And for school dances.
She's been a trooper throughout this challenging time, working hard to keep her positive attitude and typically sunny disposition. But it's been difficult.
My wife and I were talking about this the other night, and we commented that, in the long run, this will probably be good for her. After all, we reasoned, she has succeeded in most everything she has attempted over the years, and this experience will help her develop tools to deal with the struggles and disappointments of life.
That sounds all well and good, but I'm sure our daughter is still feeling like life has been a little too "lifey" lately.
I've talked to other parents whose children are going through similar struggles, whether they're related to classes in high school or adjustments to college. As experienced adults, we like to say these things will build character, and I believe that's true. But that doesn't make it any easier for the people who are facing the trials.
That came home to me later last week, when I faced a trial of my own. A challenge I hadn't expected came out of nowhere and hit me right between the eyes, potentially affecting my life at work and at home. At first, it left me feeling dazed, confused, sad and angry. A few hours later, I was feeling resigned, forgiving and even a little comforted. But the earlier feelings came right back again shortly after that.
For days, I rode up and down on this roller-coaster. I definitely felt that life was getting more "lifey" than I liked, even if I was an adult who had pushed through past struggles and disappointments that taught me how to process and deal with such experiences.
Reflecting on this left me feeling more sympathetic to my own children as they face their lives' vicissitudes. But it also convinced me more fully that we should be thankful for our trials and the lessons they teach.
For example, I'm glad I worked long hours in journalism for many years. Besides helping me build many work skills in a challenging and often fun environment, it taught me the value of time with my family and the importance of work-life balance. And that prepared me to take a risk and make a change when a new opportunity arose that could help me build that balance.
I'm glad that I've had many different kinds of friends and friendships, as they've taught me that all relationships include both good times and bad. Friendship can be hard work at times, requiring patience and forgiveness, but the rewards are worth the effort.
I'm most grateful to know that I have been truly blessed — with a job that allows me to use some of my skills and to support my family; with a spiritual life that keeps me simultaneously grounded and focused on things beyond myself; and most of all with a wife and children who love and support me even when things get crazy at work or at home.
Craziness will happen. That is, indeed, life. But as long as we have people we can count on when life gets a bit too "lifey," we can face our challenges, learn our lessons and move on to the next adventure.