Can a cow really do that…?

by Steve Brock on March 2, 2011

Some Scottish cows in a less amorous moment…

 In Venezuela, I encountered the wonder of TV antennas on shacks and moths the size of your face…and no one else seemed to care. Or rather, my parents didn’t appreciate the wonder of these sights the way I did.

So now I’m a parent. You’d think I would have learned from my own past. (I should have a tattoo made of that statement as often as it comes up.)

But no, I’m not only a parent. I’m an adult now. And that means that inevitably on the road to being an adult, something got lost along the way.


We’re in Scotland with my whole family, driving through the countryside. Suddenly, our youngest son, Connor, who is seven at the time, cries out from the back of the mini van we’ve rented.

“Look!” he exclaims. “Those two cows in that field are playing leapfrog!”

We look out the window and witness an act between bull and cow that, in time, will likely result in a baby calf. Immediately, all of the adults – and even our other son who is ten – begin laughing for two reasons.

First, how often do you see large bovine creatures mating? The physics of the act alone elicit at least a snicker if not a full-blown guffaw. These are not small animals, after all.

Second, despite the fact that we have had some preliminary “birds and bees” conversations before now, Connor clearly is clueless as to what is happening and his description of the cows playing leapfrog just adds to the humor.

So as I laugh with all the others, I look back at Connor in the rearview mirror.

And even as I’m laughing, my heart begins to break.

Connor knows that the animals playing leapfrog is a funny sight. But he’s also shrewd enough to know that something else is going on, a “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” edge to the laughter among the adults. He doesn’t understand why and now is not the time to explain it. Or maybe it is and I’m blowing an opportunity. He sits there, smiling, but I can tell that inside he’s feeling something very different.

A bull in a Scottish field. You got to really watch those horns...

Most likely, he’s feeling the way I did in Venezuela.

It’s a confused feeling, one where innocent wonder is somehow tarnished or trivialized by others. You know they don’t get what you do. And you know they get something more than you can currently understand.

That’s all part of growing up. But why it seemed so painfully poignant to me is that it wasn’t so much about what Connor did or didn’t gain from that moment, so much as what I had lost.

As an adult, I’m quick with the witty quip: “I wonder if the bull had to buy her dinner first” or “I wonder how the cow says, “I have a headache” in Moo.” I could go on and on. And that’s the problem. Cynicism comes all too naturally to me. What that moment crystallized for me was just how far removed I was from the innocent wonder that Connor expressed when he saw the cows or that I too felt as a youth seeing antennas and giant moths.

We can’t regain the lost innocence of youth. But we can honor and value it and hone our skills at pursuing if not the innocence of youth, then at least the innocent wonder of youth.

That pursuit helps to foster openness whereas cynicism closes us. I mourn that moment for Connor because our reaction led him one step away from openness. I want to reverse that and, on every trip, to choose openness over being closed. To choose innocence over cynicism. To go looking for wonder in unlikely places.

Maybe even in fields with leapfrogging cows.

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 After the disappointment of our intergenerational trip to Hawaii, my aunt died. No, the two events aren’t related except in one curious way.

If you do it right, intergenerational trips like this one here with my family in Scotland can be highly meaningful...and fun

Before she passed away, my aunt told me that she had always wanted to visit the castle of our ancestors (on my mom’s side of the family) in Scotland. It was too late for her now, but perhaps one day I could take my family there.

It turns out that my mom had long cherished the same dream. So the added impetus of a dying aunt’s last request led us to attempt another trip together: my parents, wife and two sons for 15 days in Scotland.

We had a few years of distance between the Scotland trip and our Hawaiian one which helped. But more importantly, we did the following things, some intentionally and some by pure grace, which made all the difference:

We talked before the trip. In a brutally honest way, we got everything out into the open: expectations, issues of control, small irritations and more discussions about boundaries than the combined diplomatic teams of India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir.

I prayed differently. With Hawaii, I prayed mostly for safety, good weather and fun. With Scotland, I took the trip more seriously and prayed that this would be a great experience for my whole family and that we’d grow closer because of it. Two very different prayers. Two very different results.

We addressed the issue of control. On every trip my mom has ever taken, she’s planned out all the details. On this one, I did all the planning. But every morning on the trip, I laid out a map and showed the general direction for the day but allowed everyone to weigh in on what they’d prefer to see. I gave up some of my control over the plans and by the fourth day, both my parents were saying they actually preferred it when I just made all the decisions.

I recognized the deeper layers. The issue of choosing the daily itinerary may not seem like a big deal. But I realized there was more to it. I was now taking the lead for the whole family, not my parents. In an odd way, I was now the adult. That was a big moment and I was fortunate enough to realize its significance.

We paced ourselves. We stayed the first week in a 17th century manor house south of Edinburgh and the second week in a newly built farmhouse north of Perth. Thus, we had a base to cover both the south and north. It allowed a more relaxed pace that seemed to calm everyone, physically and emotionally.

We had fun. Just as I didn’t know my parents hated beaches, I didn’t know they loved castles. We spent most of the trip exploring Scotland’s many castles (including my aunt’s desired destination, Castle Fraser). My dad shed at least ten years that trip climbing every stone staircase and following my boys through long, winding corridors. That trip rejuvenated both my parents in ways I can’t express.

I could go on, but hopefully you get a sense of how intergenerational travel, when done right, can bless everyone on the trip, often in surprising ways.

The biggest surprises to me came at the end. My parents flew home a day ahead of the rest of us. Before the trip, my immediate family was excited to have a day to ourselves. But on that last evening, the four of us realized something we didn’t expect: We missed my parents.

Most surprising of all was this: before the trip, we thought of traveling with my parents more as a familial duty. That evening we all agreed that the trip – and our lives – were better because we’d done it with them.

Scotland is a long way from Hawaii.

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Wants versus likes

by Steve Brock on September 1, 2010

What's not to like about Edinburgh?

I remember hearing a report on NPR regarding the effect of dopamine on obese people.

It turns out that dopamine, the chemical in our brains that relates to pleasure, causes a rather nasty vicious cycle in obese people.

Somehow, the more you eat of a certain enjoyable food – they tested people using chocolate milkshakes – the more you learn to crave it. But the downside is that even as you’re craving it more, you derive less pleasure from the experience.

In short, you may want something – or tell yourself that you want it – only to find you don’t actually like it. Wants and likes are not necessarily the same.

I find this on certain trips.

I allow myself to believe the guidebooks or reviews by others without filtering them through my own sense of what I value. I’m notorious about this when it comes to big cities.

[click to continue…]

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