- Michael Thompson
“Holy Shit!” Liam, our five-year-old screamed. “Holy Shit!” Luc, his parrot-like little brother echoed.
My wife and I had hoped after spending 3 months without seeing a single blade of grass, the sun and sea would burn off some of our kid’s pent up lockdown energy.
But that’s not exactly how things played out. Not even thirty minutes after we packed up our car and made the hour drive to a quaint little fishing village on the coast for a “work-cation”, our kid’s excitement had reached a whole new level.
After giving an apologetic nod to the lone person on the beach who didn’t look too pleased to see children, I made the 10-meter wade towards the rock they were sitting on to see what was up.
Before I could warn them of the type of weather bad words bring, I had a “Holy Shit” moment of my own.
With my eyes glued to the shallow pool of water in front of them, I said softly, “Liam, hold your little brother and don’t move. I just saw a fish as red as your bike swim right under the rock you’re sitting on.”
“Duh,” Liam whispered. “Why do you think we were yelling? We’re going to need some nets!”
“Duh,” his little brother once again chimed in.
Since our first fateful encounter with the little fish, Liam aptly named “Red,” over the last 28 days he and we have spent at least 4 hours a day trying to catch him.
The book proposal I promised myself I’d do my best to knock out this month still has a layer of dust on it.
But that’s okay.
We have a life, not a career and over the last month while spending well over 100 hours sitting on a rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, Liam has provided me with the exact lessons I needed to learn.
Don’t let your results dictate the quality of your day
The next afternoon, armed with two $3 nets, Liam and I hit the beach on a mission to catch Red. I tried explaining to him that the sea was big. But before I could finish giving him my lecture about the odds of seeing the same fish twice, I was met with yet another “Holy Shit!”
“Dad! Dad! Holy Shit” It’s Red! I saw Red!”
I couldn’t believe it. But despite Liam’s raucous, right in front of the rock we were sitting on the day before, the beautiful fish swam out in front of us to say hello. Not only that, but every ten minutes or so for the rest of the evening he came out to laugh at us while we scrambled for our nets.
Walking home that night, frustrated and empty-handed, I turned to Liam and said, “Man, I’m not sure we’re ever going to catch Red.”
Without missing a beat, Liam corrected me — “What a great day!”
Control what you can and ignore the rest
Roughly two weeks into trying to catch Red — who we had seen every single day— we walked down to the beach to see that the far corner where we had set up camp had been turned into a construction zone. The scuba diving company that was located right next to the beach had moved a ton of rocks — including the one we’d been sitting on — in order to build a loading area for divers.
I was devastated and I thought for sure Liam would feel the same. To my surprise, he put his snorkel, bucket, and net down on a new rock and said, “Not much we can do about that.”
As expected, our new piece of real estate wasn’t the address of Red’s new home. But regardless, instead of focusing on what he didn’t have, Liam made do with what he did have. Later that night, he proudly announced to his mother and little brother that he had netted 3 crabs, 5 little fish, and 2 starfish.
All progress is made in the present
Over the next week or so, Liam’s fish count crushed mine. It seemed like every time I turned around he had netted another one.
Finally, after hearing him scream, “I got another one!” for the umpteenth time, I asked him for his trick: “I just try not to move too much,” he replied while shrugging his sun-kissed shoulders. “Just relax and stare at the same spot for a while and see if any fish swim by.”
As someone with the attention span of a monkey, fighting the urge to grab my snorkel and go for a swim every ten minutes wasn’t easy. But I took his advice and for the next two hours, I sat perfectly still. Except when I screamed “Liam!” while holding up my net to show him what I had caught.
Success intensifies when you work together
Even though we had gotten into our own groove and were both starting to rack up the fish, our big breakthrough came when we stopped fishing off opposite sides of the rock and teamed up together.
When either of us spotted a fish, Liam put his net on the right side of it and I put mine on the left. As a result, in a day of sheer brilliance, we netted 14 fish, including one that was at least 7 inches long that Liam helped to lure straight into my net.
The small — but heavy impact switch — of Liam saying, “Mom! Luc! Look what we caught!” instead of saying “Look what I caught!” made my heart jump.
Goals are reached when you prioritize your curiosity
With each passing day, Red’s name was said less and less. It wasn’t voiced out loud, but I think we both had come to terms that since his rock had been moved we’d never see him again.
But last night, on the way back from Liam hopping from rock to rock to chase down the biggest crab he’d ever seen, he saw a bright red little fish not 5 meters away from where he had originally seen him.
“Dad! Dad! It’s Red! It’s Red! I saw Red!”
I thought for sure he was joking. But seconds later, the beautiful fish came out to say hello again.
Maybe it was luck. Or maybe it was because of the skills we’d honed over the last month. But that evening, for five minutes I hope to never forget, Liam watched Red swim around in his bucket before finally saying goodbye.
A boy and his fish
Everywhere we go we’re told to chase mentors and to get to know successful people.
That’s all well and good.
But this past month while sitting on a rock for 100 hours with my son in the middle of the Mediterranean, I was reminded of the importance of paying just as much attention to the little ones.
They truly are our greatest teachers.