For the XP

Garage sales and yard sales are curious attractions. You walk several miles within a small and contained plot of land. The items you think will sell don't while other items you doubt anyone would ever buy are the first to go. And people show up with odd requests, looking for items completely unrelated to anything visibly available for purchase as if there’s a secret stash somewhere.

We held a yard sale this weekend. Unloaded stuff that had been cluttering the garage for months. Made some money that will help fund a home construction project. We still need to take the unsold items to Goodwill for donations. Our best profits came from the coffee stand the kids staffed. Chickens visited. And Frosty decided to graze his way through the merchandise.

Less stuff and extra money are nice benefits, but even if we didn't sell a single item, we were visited by a party that made the whole yard sale worth having. Early on Saturday afternoon, an SUV pulled into our driveway. An older man, roughly my dad's age, stepped out of the driver's seat and explained their situation.

His elderly mother was sitting in the front passenger seat. He and his wife took her out for a drive, showing her the area. They planned on cruising around Newman Lake before heading up to Greenbluff. They had no intention of stopping at any yard sales, but as they drove by our house they saw the animals and knew they had to stop. The two geese and all five goats were hanging out by the garage, chickens were scattered all over the yard, and Zu was riding one of our horses in the back pasture. The old man explained his mom grew up on a farm. It had been several years since she was near a bunch of barnyard creatures and he wanted to reconnect her with memories of her youth.

I invited them out to walk around, but the man said his mom wasn't very mobile any more. So instead, I picked up Kazoo, one of our goats, and carried her to their car where the mom could see Kazoo up close. We discussed the animals for a while, and I provided driving directions to their remaining destinations. As we talked, it became clear the man's mom was in the twilight of her life; her health was failing and she was non-verbal - communicated through nodding or shaking her head. By the time her son climbed back into the driver's seat, tears began to well in the corners of her eyes and a faint smile lit up her face.

Their visit reminded me of my dad and his mom. Grandma Casey is in a similar stage in her life. These strangers helping their mom navigate old age is like the traveling my dad has done to spend as much time with his mom as he possibly can. I recalled phone conversations with my grandma, each time I wonder if it will be the last time I hear her voice. They reinforced lessons of wisdom older generations have given me since I was a kid: at the end of your life, you will value your memories more than your money. Your experiences will always be of greater worth than the stuff you accumulate.

In video games, you are rewarded with XP or experience points for completing missions, defeating opponents, and performing specific tasks. Gaining more XP increases your character's health, strength, and abilities. Life is much the same. Our experiences affect our health. They can improve our strength and knowledge. They give us wisdom. The things we do and the relationships we build propel us through this world, it is the foundation for the memories we treasure when our lives come to an end.

This summer, Annie and I came to a realization. We have a small house for a family of seven. Storage space is minimal. It's obvious we don't need more stuff, so we decided we're not giving the kids big gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Instead, we're giving them adventures. No more toys and gadgets that will sit unused after the kids play with it once. We're going to take them out for a fun activity, something that will build memories to last a lifetime. It's real world XP. Giving them something that will build better bonds between them as siblings and with us as parents. Giving them a wonderous and exciting life. Giving them stories to tell their friends. Giving them a foundation to build upon as they grow up. Letting them know our time with them is the most important thing in the world.

Our first attempt at the adventure birthday gift was a success. We took the boys to Silverwood and filled the day with thrills and laughter. My oldest son will always remember being braver than Dad after riding Aftershock, the roller coaster that I refused to board. My youngest son will always remember sitting next to me for his first three roller coasters and how I helped him overcome his fear. The expressions on their faces as they watched Nick Norton's magic show are images I will carry with me through the rest of my days. Hearing Christian announce over and over how the trip was the best gift anyone ever got him made every penny worth spending. They both gained XP and leveled up.

As caretakers, whether as parents raising children, or grown adults caring for the parents who raised us, creating these memorable moments are our most important tasks. It could be as elaborate as a day at a theme park or as simple as visiting a farm. The XP we gain in life will become the memories we cherish for years to come. The old lady's smile and tears were enough to convince me: Annie and I made the right choice.

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