Resilience in Real Life
Who do you see practicing resilience? When you start noticing resiliency you may start to see it in more places than you'd imagined. Our dear friends Jeff and Bridget Dunbar from Baton Rouge, Louisiana have given me permission to share with you their Christmas letter. It's not what you think. This family lives life with intensity and their sense of humor is every bit as intense; in fact, it takes a great deal of courage and hope to live with the conviction that life is basically pretty funny. I hope you see what I see in this Christmas letter. I hope their reflection allows you to look at your own life with greater understanding and affection. Don't skip the footnotes ;) They're my favorite.
P.S. If you want to reflect more seriously, check out Angela Duckworth's grit scale. Grit is not the same as resilience, but I sense that they are related practices.
December 12, 2019
Our Lady of Guadalupe
For the 3rd consecutive year the Dunbar family Christmas letter is being written in December.
Pauline is three years old. She receives some parenting, but mostly just suggestions. At one point I thought she may have a hearing problem, but she hears certain words perfectly such as chocolate and doggy. At night we pray and I dutifully bring her to bed. A few minutes later she appears next to my bed and before I can admonish, the kryptonic words are uttered with puppy eyes: “Watch a soccer video with you, daddy?”
Pauline’s sidekick is big sister Sophia. She has the classic 5th of six children personality dynamic. Specifically it’s her wit in a witty family that causes her to stand out. This extraordinary sense of humor pairs well with the judgement of one who’s not yet the age of reason. She’ll often get in trouble and then make everyone laugh. We finish laughing and then stare at each other in mutual amnesia while Sophia smiles smugly.
In the 2nd chapter of Sirach we hear that “worthy men are (refined) in the crucible of humiliation”. So I took Bridget and the kids camping last month. A few rules to remember when you camp: make sure everyone has a sleeping bag, don’t camp when it’s raining and cold, and don’t sleep next to a child who literally fights and screams while they’re sleeping. Sophia was lying next to me and would punch me and scream and then lay her head down gently. Meanwhile, I’m wondering why the sun won’t come up as the refinement process seems protracted.
Cecilia is now in 2nd grade. As you may recall from last year, we had to temper her rough play at recess. Through the grapevine we understand that the 3rd grade boys call her “danger dome” Bridget and I understand that every child is different and require varying parental strategies. In this case we’re implementing an increase (doubling) to the dowry budget.
We’re in the process of teaching her to cope with instances of disappointment. According to counseling sessions and several self-help books I’ve scanned for pictures, disappointment occurs when we have unrealized expectations. Frustration, disillusionment and even anger are common emotions one might experience. Cecilia’s bouts of disappointment are more akin to the regional PETA director mistakenly walking into a slaughterhouse at the end of a hard day’s work. Referrals, suggestions or condolences are welcome.
Ben is in 4th grade and is still enjoying soccer and wrestling. He likes to fish with his cousin Paul. He’s also a salesman as my maternal grandfather of happy memory once branded me. Bridget walked by his room this week and noticed a sign on his door marketing Kids Night in his room. His younger sisters were solicited to pay a dollar to enjoy story time and playing with his action figures. In Irishman Al Pacino’s character, Jimmy Hoffa, details the difference between fraud and extortion. Ben didn’t have to resort to the latter because the girls naively paid the cover charge for what amounts to a daily ritual.
Mary Frances turns 12 this weekend. She’s a good combination of her parents. She enjoys a good laugh, is a bit messy, and requires a tow truck to pull her out of bed. She has Bridget’s work ethic and deep-seated addiction to a French-pressed, bulletproof coffee with an extra serving of heavy whipping cream all mixed in the ninja blender. It’s a real process, interrupts conversations but worth the wait.
She’s picked up the violin this year. The progress has been stark. At first I was certain we had adopted stray cats whom were viciously fighting, but now we’re a sophisticated household appreciating new melodies. While Mary Frances is broadening her musical horizons, she hasn’t become acquainted with all genres. She was recently with her Mississippi cousins who were listening to rap. She had a question and it wasn’t “What artist is this?” or “What’s the name of this song?” To the chagrin of her cousins she wanted to know: “What language are they speaking?”
She has braces which means the orthodontist now has a lien on our house. It’s sad but in our society, a smile full of straight teeth may be more valuable than a high school diploma. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a good athlete Mary Frances has become. She was always a good swimmer, but her soccer playing has really impressed this year. She has a natural touch with both feet and the Dunbar charism that often surprises the other sweet 12 year olds.
Therese is on the cusp of adulthood. She’s certainly smarter than most adults I know, but other areas of maturity are manifesting. She’s surreptitiously browsing Bridget’s closet before outfits go missing. She’s read a parenting book by Dr. Ray Guarendi and offers unsolicited advice to Bridget liberally. She’s also more independent. For example, a year or so ago, Therese would stand at the end of the driveway and anxiously wait for Bridget to finish her neighborhood jog. Now she tells us that she’ll babysit and “not to rush home”. She’ll also instruct the other children their required chores in order to watch Netflix. The combination of Therese’s leadership and catnip appeal of Dragon Riders is irresistible. Bridget and I only see the clean house and have Machiavellian disinterest in the means.
Therese is also playing competitive soccer again and it’s a joy to watch her better understand the beautiful game. The night we went camping she yelled during a dream (or nightmare) “pass the ball!”. It was sudden and loud that everyone woke up but her. Yet with all the changes not all things have yet passed. Mom and Dad still receive a nightly hug before bed.
My parents have moved to Baton Rouge. It’s been a joy to have them closer. I don’t know if I’m happier for my parents or our children. Plus now I have access to ESPN within walking distance.
Bridget and I are enjoying are full lives with each other and our children. We’re praying and thinking of our friends near and far. And we’re grateful for the good and beautiful whose source became flesh so we might have life to the fullest.
Jeff & Bridget
with Therese, Mary Frances, Ben, Cecilia, Sophia and Pauline
 It’s a trivial detail but exemplifies the self-referencing compliments common to Christmas letters. Reading further is consent.  Intuitively aware of the hidden wound, created by her siblings’ collective boredom in watching Premier League highlights, she uses my vulnerability to sneak into our bed.  The etymology is likely related to head butting a poor lad at recess or she’s just generally precarious.  I remember bending the truth to defraud my grandfather of more candy one summer. He said: “You’d be a good salesman”. Not receiving many compliments as a child, I ran to my mom to tell her the good news. Her reply shocked me: “He said that!? Your grandfather doesn’t curse, Jeffrey, that’s the meanest thing he could think to say!”.  Orthodontics is a shared branch of metallurgy and magic that teaches adherents how to transform stainless steel in a patient’s mouth into gold in the doctor’s pocket.  Referring to “aggression or physical play” in this context.  Father’s musing: If she only demanded the ball so strongly during real games!