Chunking

Our brains get lazy and let us down all the time. Mostly, this happens when we are doing something innocuous. We let our brain take over and go into autopilot.
 
This is called chunking. It’s when something has become so routine that our brain lumps it into one task. 
 
For example, going to work. Do you ever get to work and think, how did I get here?
 
Our brains work to be as efficient as possible. You aren’t actively thinking about opening your car door, backing out of the garage, shutting the garage door, etc
 
99% of the time, this results in arriving at work with no issue. But, if there is a slight change in your normal routine it can lead to a mistake. For example, you get in your car and then remember that it is garbage day. You get out of your car, roll the garbage can to the street, get back in the car, and drive away completely oblivious to the fact that you left your garage door open (not that this happened to me today, this is a fictional situation that I came up with).
 
Something like this has happened to all of us at some point. Our brains skip a beat and pick things back up at step 10 rather than step 9 during some ritual. It is irritating, but it is usually harmless.
 
So, why are you reading this? Well, sometimes chunking can lead to an embarrassing moment. Like this one…
 
My wife, son, and I were heading on a day trip North to Duluth, MN to go see Thomas The Train. My wife was in dire need of a new cell phone. We decided to stop at the AT&T store before hitting the road (yeah, my Saturdays have been lit lately). 
 
We pulled up to the store at 9:40 AM and, of course, the store does not open until 10.  
 
“What do you want to do?” I ask my wife. 
 
“Let’s just do it some other time” 
 
“Well, I need to go get some gas before we leave” 
 
We pull out of the parking lot and drive to the gas station down the street. 
 
I get out, swipe my card, start pumping the gas, and ads start running on the tiny screen. 
 
I open my wife’s door and ask, “do you want me to get you anything from inside?” 
 
She said that she didn’t.
 
My car needed washer fluid, it had been alerting me of this for about 2 weeks. Also, we didn’t have sun screen so I figured I could grab some of that as well. 
 
I ran inside, found the high priced sun screen and washer fluid, paid, walked out of the store, popped the hood, put washer fluid in my car, and threw the empty jug away
 
I took a glance at my windshield and decided that I would use the squeegee to clean up the windshield (something that I never do, but squeegee seemed fun)
 
After I got in the car, satisfied that I was prepared to hit the open road. I asked my wife, “do you want to head to Duluth or go back to the AT&T store.” After all my windshield cleaning, it was a couple of minutes before 10.
 
“Let’s go to the store and get it taken care of.”
 
“Sounds good.”
 
I put on my seat belt, turn on the car, put the car in drive, take my foot off the brake, and slowly start to pull away from the pump.
 
A thump, then I hear a grinding metallic noise.
 
“What is that? What did I hit?” I ask my wife as panic grips my chest.
 
“You need to back up.”
 
That’s when it hit me. I knew what I did, or didn’t do to be more precise.
 
I put the car in park, unbuckled my seatbelt, got out of the car, looked around to see who was looking at me, walked around the back, and saw the gas pump nozzle still inserted into my gas tank. The hose laid limp on the ground next to my car, completely detached from the pump.
 
I worried that the heat radiating from my face might spark a fire.
 
Nervously, I scanned the area looking for someone that had witnessed the most idiotic thing I have ever done (arguably).
 
Do I go inside and tell somebody? I really don’t want to go inside and tell somebody. I can reattach it.
 
 I looked at the end of the hose that was once attached to the pump, then looked at the pump where the hose attached. 
 
See, somebody knew that idiots like me existed. They created these hoses to detach without ripping the gas pump out or destroying my car. 
 
I grabbed the hose, reached the end up to the pump, reattached it (best that I could), took the nozzle out of my car, placed it back on the pump, put on my gas cap, got in the car, put on my seat belt, looked at my wife and said…
 
“Good enough” and got the hell out of there. 
 
I spent most of the drive to Duluth wondering how long it would take for this scene to make it up on YouTube. 
 
The point is, this wasn’t my fault. 
 
The blame resides solely on my brain. 
Cheers.

Seventeen Years

Seventeen years ago, today, I asked my wife to “go out with me.”

Today is also my birthday (thanks for remembering).

Here’s the thing. When I was younger and birthdays still kind of mattered, it always irritated me that our “anniversary” fell on my birthday. I am not proud of having felt this way and I regret the years that I didn’t mention it or buy something for my girlfriend.

Now, the “anniversary” is less important, so to speak, since our wedding anniversary falls on a completely different day. But, as I have grown up and we have continued our life together, my birthday has gained significance for me again.

This year seems especially important since we now have an amazing child together.

I don’t think that my fifteen-year-old self could have ever imagined what life would be like seventeen years later. In fact, I am pretty sure my fifteen-year-old self never thought about much more than 5 minutes in the future. But, I sure would like to travel back in time and give him a hug for having the courage to whisper, “will you go out with me?” in my wife’s ear.

We all have moments in our life that we look back on with regret. I know I have lots of them and, lately, they seem to be clouding my brain in a fog of negativity. Humans tend to focus on the negatives and the missed shots in their life.

Today, I get to celebrate the best shot that I took and made.

Nothing but net.

Little did I know standing in the hallway of Franklin Junior High that I was making the best choice of my entire life. Which is obvious by my countless attempts to mess it up over the years that would follow.

For some reason, my wife stuck with me through the bad times and now I am able to reflect on the woman that my wife has become. It has been nothing short of amazing.

It has been nothing short of amazing.

See, I have remained relatively the same. Aside from some disgusting weight fluctuations, I remain the remarkably average guy that I have always been. There isn’t all that much that is impressive about me. I have the same sense of humor that I did when I was fifteen. I remain relatively average in most other facets of my life.

Except for my wife and son.

Over the past seventeen years, my wife has turned into a woman. Dare I say, a sexy woman.

When I look at it now, in hindsight, it is awe inspiring and beautiful.

Professionally, she is a force. A strong, confident woman that gets things done. Everyone that works for her loves her. I am astounded by her drive daily.

As a mother, she is nothing short of incredible. She is attentive, patient, and loving every minute of the day. Even when she is covered with spit up at five in the morning, she seems to appreciate the moment and enjoy it. Even when she is exhausted and her nerves are fried due to a lack of sleep, you wouldn’t know it when she is interacting with our son.

Finally, as a wife. Well, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe what she means to me. Day in and day out, she loves me despite my many flaws. She is the reason I am the man that I am today. She is the reason that I smile when things seem to be going bad. She is the reason that I am able to get out of bed every day.

So, if you have made it this far, what’s the point?

First, I just feel like everyone should know that I have an amazing wife.

But, more importantly, I know that I am not alone in having a moment in my life that I can look on and point at as a time where my life changed for the better.

Rather than focusing on the things that did not go as planned. Focus on the time they went perfect and be grateful for that moment.

I know that today when I look at my wonderful wife and son, I will be.

Cheers.

What’s In A Nickname?

You do not get to choose your nicknames. They follow you around, silently stalking until they attach themselves to you, like a parasite, when you least expect it.

Sometimes they are funny and endearing. Sometimes they are malicious. Sometimes they are cool and catchy. The nickname that attached itself to me is somewhere in the middle, I suppose.

You have no recourse if the nickname that finds you is one that you do not care for. Resisting only results in the moniker taking a stronger hold, like a Chinese finger trap. Though, you do not realize this until it is too late.

My nickname found me in the fall of 2002 the Monday following the final football game of my senior year. The last football game of my life.

Now, it is important to give a little context that involves football, rest assured that this will not turn into a nostalgic reliving of my glory days on the football field. I have no illusions that my career was anything more than what it was, mediocre. I was not the star of the team or anything close to it. I had a weak knee, due to a snowmobile accident that I have written about previously, that caused me to play hesitant in a game that has no patience for hesitant players. I did what I could to fill my role on the team as a Fullback. I had a few games where I made solid contributions that would show up in a box score but nothing to brag about.

Well, I was 100% (1/1) kicking extra points as the backup placekicker.

That being said, I had an amazing time playing and enjoyed all of the time spent on the field with my teammates and coaches. What’s more, I was a part of a historic season as our team had the first undefeated regular season in 64 years. It’s hard not to have fun when your team is winning all of the time.

Everything came down to the section 8, Class 5A championship game on November 1, 2002. A cold, blustery day. The kind of day that you don’t want to play football unless there is something important on the line. With temperatures below freezing, everything hurts and the field, which was forgiving green grass a few months prior, now more closely resembles an asphalt parking lot.

A win on this day would send us to the next round, competing in the state quarterfinals.

Athletes, in general, are superstitious people. All sorts of traditions and rituals are followed as the competition approached. This was the case for the Brainerd Warriors. Before we would take the field to warm up for the game, we would slowly assemble in the dark basketball gym. This was not only a respite from the stench of high school locker room but also a chance to relax and visualize your upcoming performance. Time to mentally prepare for the game ahead and the game plan that was installed during practice.

This ritual was interrupted by the opposing team as they opted to warm up in the gym, avoiding the cold temperatures outside. This was an unwelcomed distraction, to say the least.

The other ritual is lining up at the top of the long stairs that overlooked the football field below holding hands with the teammate next you. The goal here was to be a cohesive unit and to have “one heart beat” as a team. Looking down at the field illuminated under the stadium lighting with our friends and family in the stands, it occurred to no one on the team that it would be the last time we would do so.

As a teenager, I spent so much time dreading football practice. Putting on the same smelly pads day after day. Conditioning in the unforgiving August heat twice a day for two weeks.

It wasn’t until we lost the game that I realized how much it all actually meant to me.

I couldn’t believe that it was over.

After shaking hands with the opposing team, we huddled as a team under our goal posts. Another ritual but this was the first time we had done so as the losing team. Another sobering pang of reality.

After a brief speech from our team captains, the field is flooded with family and friends offering condolences on the loss.

I am an emotional guy. I often wish I wasn’t but it is just who I am. I cry easy and the more I try to prevent it, the worse it gets.

Tears flooded my face as I realized from now on playing football would be nothing more than a fading memory.

Now, I will maintain that I was not the only guy crying on the field that night. There were many others. If any of you are reading this, you know who you are.

As I made my way to my parents and my girlfriend, crying, I saw the flash out of the corner of my eye. At the time, I paid no attention to this. There were pictures being taken by families all over the field. I hugged my parents as they congratulated me on a good season.

I walked around to teammates, doing the same thing.

It wasn’t until the following Monday morning that I would realize that the flash that I saw out of the corner of my eye was my nickname attaching itself to me.

As I walked into the high school a little before 8AM, still in shock that the season was over, one of best friends approached me, “Hey! It’s Timmy Baby Pants!”

“What?” I said. I had no clue where this was coming from, I was confused and anxious (the state that I am in about 75% of the time).

Laughing he said, “Nice picture in the paper, Timmy Baby Pants!”

“Wh- what picture?” I said. I had not seen the paper.

Oh no.

He calls out to another one of my “best” friends, neither of them played football, “he doesn’t know! He hasn’t seen the paper!”

They lead me down a hallway to a bulletin board hanging outside of a classroom where a teacher would pin-up articles that highlighted students performances, athletic or otherwise.

Even from a distance, I knew exactly what the picture was.

This picture adorned the front page of the sports section.

What's in a nickname?

Why me? Why would they use a picture of me? I was a meaningless role player at best. What did I do to the photographer?

“Are you sad, Timmy Baby Pants? Should we call the wambulance?” one of my “friends” says.

“Did Timmy Baby Pants lose the big game?” says the other.

This is my life now.

I tried to justify. I tried to explain that I wasn’t the only one crying. This made it worse.

By the end of the day, most of my friends were calling me Timmy Baby Pants.

By the end of the week, my mom was calling me Timmy Baby Pants.

This picture is framed and on display in my house.

It has been 14 years. The nickname remains. At least yearly, the picture is posted on Facebook by one of my loving friends. One year, a large number of people even made it their profile picture. This winter I was introduced to a mutual friend at a bar and after a moment of studying my face he said, “Wait, you’re the crying football player!”

Over the past 14 years, I have surrendered. I now realize that the stupid nickname fits. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

Cheers.

Timmy Baby Pants

 

 

First Moments as a Father

“I’m just going to take a seat.”

If you are in the medical field, never make these the first words a patient hears out of your mouth. Especially if the patient is a new parent.

I tend to be a bit anxious about most things that I encounter on a daily basis (okay, okay… extremely anxious about all things). Yet, the day that my son was born, I like to think I kept things together relatively well.

The hospital admitted us at midnight on March 16th. I thought that our son would be arriving shortly when we got into our room.

I was wrong.

My wife lasted about 5 hours before she got an epidural. Meanwhile, I fumbled around trying to be helpful but feeling completely helpless. I will forever be in awe of my wife’s strength and toughness throughout the birth of our son.

We knew when my wife’s water broke that there was meconium in the uterus. This can cause complication at birth if the baby inhales it. The nurse admitting us explained that we would have Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit nurses present when the baby was born as a precaution. This news was simultaneously unsettling and comforting, somehow.

After a long day of waiting for contractions to progress, the time came for my wife to start pushing.

“Do you feel ready to push?” the nurse asks.

“I can try.”

This is happening.

It’s an odd feeling. This human, that I have felt kicking through my wife’s stomach is just going to show up. It is this person that I love eternally and, yet, I am completely indifferent to.

It’s like only seeing pictures of the ocean. It is just the big blue parts on the map until you stand on the sandy shores and realize how vast it truly is. You can understand that it is salt water but, salt water takes on a new meaning when you have tasted it while swimming in the waves so long they desiccate your lips. You can see the waves of the ocean but, you cannot appreciate their unyielding power until you have swum in them.

For nine months, my wife swam in the ocean. Feeling every kick and hiccup over the course of the day.

I just looked at pictures trying to imagine what it would truly be like.

As we approached the big moment, I noticed on the monitor that my eyes had been glued to all day that our son’s heart rate would drop at each push. The doctor’s mood shifted as she became more concentrated on the task of bringing our son into the world.

Finally, with an assist from a vacuum, I saw my son pulled into the world.

In one, quick motion the doctor cut the umbilical cord and handed him to an awaiting NICU nurse.

I was supposed to cut the co… He isn’t breathing.

This is not what I had envisioned for my son’s first moments. The nurses take him to the bassinet warmer.

My son is a blue/grey color. I focus on the nurses faces trying to get a sense of what is happening.

“Come on buddy, you can do it” one of them coos.

“Let it out, come on…” says another.

They lift his hands and let go. They fall limp at his sides.

Please cry, please, cry.

“What is happening?” my wife asks muffled through an oxygen mask.

“I… everything thing is fine… they are…”

I scan the room, looking for answers when I make eye contact with a nurse who notices the panic on my face. She approaches with a smile and some of the kindest eyes I have ever seen. As she makes her way over, I hear the greatest sound I have ever heard in my entire life (well, maybe it is a tie for the greatest sound with the entire Hamilton soundtrack which was playing while he was born). My son is crying. Weak but crying none the less.

“They are working to suction his airway to help him breathe,” says the nurse, “he is crying now, which is a great sign but we will want to get him down to the NICU as soon as possible.”

Sweet relief.

“Dad…”

I’m a dad. She is talking to me.

“Do you want to get a camera ready? We are going to bring him over to mom.”

I grab my camera and get ready.

In the birthing classes that we took a couple months ago, they took a great deal of time to talk about the “Golden Hour.” The hour immediately following the birth when the baby gets skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeds for the first time. This beautiful time that we would get to spend with the new addition to our family.

We will not get that. We will get, roughly, thirty seconds.

“Okay, we need to take him now. Dad, you can come with if you’d like.”

I look to my wife as she nods at me.

I jog down the hall after the nurses into the dimly lit NICU with incubators full of tiny babies. They weigh him.

“Nine pounds, three ounces.”

My wife is a hero.

I watch my son’s chest rapidly expand and retract as the nurses work to stick leads on his body and secure a CPAP machine across his face. The nurses let me know that he is doing fine but his respiratory rate is about double what they want it to be. They are concerned with the possibility of infection because of the meconium and want to start antibiotics. They tell me now would be a good time to go give my wife an update.

I head back to our room and tell my wife what I know. After I give her the update, I bring my mother-in-law down to the NICU to see the baby.

His breathing has slowed down a bit but he is still working hard to breath. This is my first chance to touch him and talk to him. He follows me with his eyes.

I am not a stranger. He knows who I am. I fall in love.

A nurse, with a stern looking face, comes to talk to me. She tells me that they have sent blood cultures to the lab to check for infection but they need to start the antibiotics. They are having a hard time getting a vein so the need to go through his belly button. She tells me that I shouldn’t be here for that. I agree. She tells me that she will come to our room with an update in about five minutes.

I am sitting in the chair next to my wife’s hospital bed. Anxious because five minutes has turned into twenty. There is a quick knock as the door opens and the nurse practitioner enters the room.

“I’m just going to take a seat.”

She slowly walks across the room to the couch, sits, and lets out a sigh.

“We don’t always get to know why babies aren’t born healthy and happy. Obviously, you both could see that Jude was not doing well from the get-go…”

He’s dead.

“He had a lot of trouble breathing right away and he just wasn’t responding the way that we like new babies to respond. We got him on the CPAP as soon as we could….”

My son is dead. I was just with him. He was alive and alert. Now he is dead.

“We sent blood cultures down to the lab to test for infection but, sometimes we just don’t get to know why babies aren’t healthy and happy when they are born. We did consider airlifting him to another hospital but we decided against that. Now, this isn’t due to anything that you did wrong during the pregnancy and it isn’t anything that the doctor or nurses did wrong during the birth.”

(This is completely true)

She pauses. My heart is beating so hard, I fear that I am going to faint.

I can’t cry. I can’t react. I need to take care of my wife. I get to cry later. I don’t get to cry now. Now I need to take care of my wife.

“With all that being said… your son is fine.”

You fucking bitch. What is wrong with you?

She continues on talking but I hear none of it. I want her to leave. I want her out of our room.

“Any questions?”

“No.” My wife and I say simultaneously.

As she leaves, we both break down into tears. It is awful.

“Did you think he was dead?” my wife asks.

“I knew he was dead” I say.

Shortly after, we move to our postpartum room. This is my wife’s first chance to see our son since the thirty seconds that he spent on her chest.

IMG_2609

He has stabilized. His respiratory rate is slowing and he is in good shape despite what the grim reaper of a nurse lead us to believe.

I want to be clear, I do not think that the nurse that convinced me that my son was dead is a bad nurse. I believe she did a great job taking care of my son in the first minutes of his life. I also believe that she was careless (or maybe she is a sadist that took pleasure in seeing our faces turn white) in the way that she approached the situation and that is something that I cannot forgive.

The rest of our hospital stay was amazing. I could not have asked for my son to have more attentive and competent nurses at his side around the clock.

Less than 48 hours later, we were in our car on our way home. Sleet pelted the windshield as we drove toward our new life filled with all kinds of days.

Full of happiness and optimism (and a lot of fear), I drove my family home being sure to go no faster than five miles an hour under the speed limit. On our way to creating great memories and stories. While our first scary story faded in the rear view mirror along with the nurse and her terrible bedside manner.

Cheers.

 

Unsolicited Advice

When I was engaged my least favorite part was the unsolicited advice and terrible jokes.

“Your life will be over the minute you get married.”

“You will never have freedom again.”

“Just remember… happy wife, happy life.”

“Happiest day of my life is when I got divorced.”

On and on it went with these bits of wisdom from people I wouldn’t consult with on what type of toilet paper to use.

These people think they are being funny and creative.

Wrong.

They think they are dropping golden pieces of wisdom that will help make a happy relationship.

Nope.

If you are one of these people, stop. Don’t do it. If people want relationship advice from you, they will ask. And, if they don’t ask? Well, there is probably a reason that they aren’t asking you…

I get it, it is a bit of hazing as you enter a new club that so many before have joined. But, it is akin to pulling up next to someone at a stop light and saying, “I see you’ve got a car there. Let me tell ya, if you want it to keep running, you should be sure to put gas in it.”

After getting married, all that stopped, it was such a relief. The reprieve was short-lived as a new group of personal life invaders appeared.

“Soooo, when are you going to have children?!”

Guess what? Whether a couple is going to have children is none of your business.

If you do this, stop. Don’t do it.

This is as inappropriate as asking someone, “what do you and your spouse like sexually? Please, be as descriptive and specific as possible.”

Maybe they aren’t ready. We are in the 21st century and people do not always procreate immediately.

Maybe they are trying but are having trouble that is putting stress on their relationship that you couldn’t possibly understand.

Maybe they never want to have kids and don’t want to see the stupid, confused look on your face when they tell you this.

Slowly, this tide of people does retreat back to sea (with the marriage advice dopes) as people start to assume that you just won’t have kids for some reason or another. Which they love just as much. Why? Because then they tell other people on your behalf that you are not having children.

Seriously, I thought the personal life invaders had left but, alas, I was sorely mistaken. I have encountered what seems to be the worst yet.

Pregnancy, birth and parenting advice givers.

I get it you have had one child or more and now you are an expert. You have the wisdom to impart that I must hear lest my child peril due to my lack of knowledge. You have come to my aid in the nick of time, Super Douche.

I’ll take my chances but… thanks.

“Has your wife been really moody and eating weird things? Because my wife was a total bitch when she was pregnant.”

Well, what a lovely way to talk about the mother of your child. While she was going through one of the most difficult life experiences that a human can encounter, your thought was “what a bitch?”

What is the endgame here? You want me to tell you that my wife is not in the best of moods and that will somehow make you feel better?

“You don’t understand how expensive children are.”

There is no way you can escape this comment. It is always stated as if it is the biggest revelation in the history of mankind.

It isn’t.

Obviously, children are expensive. Thank you for being the John Madden of my life stating the obvious. Thank you for stating this and not following up with any helpful advice or tips on how to reduce costs. You have either learned none, or, you are a sadist that is looking forward to watching parents fail financially. Which is it?

And, finally, we come full circle back to the moron that was giving imparting wisdom before marriage. He has since had a child and would like you to know…

“Your life will be over the minute your baby is born.”

“Live it up now because once you have a kid, you’ll never have fun again.”

How terrible is your life? These are the same people that long for the days of high school when they felt like the popular kids.

I didn’t make the decision to have a child without considering what life would be like afterward. Of course, I will have less time to go out to bars and do the things I have done for the past decade. I will now have a human life that is depending on me to be responsible and make sound decisions…

Oh dear god, what have I done?

Unlike these people, I am happiest when spending time with my wife and now there will be a child that is joining us. I can’t think of anything that I would want more than that.

So, what’s the point?

The point is: mind your business when you encounter people in any of these stages of their life. What is coming next is exciting and terrifying for them. They do not need your weak attempts at humor and life advice.

Stop telling people horror stories because you are insecure about your perceived failures or shortcomings as a spouse and/or parent.

However, if you must give your unsolicited advice. Talk about the good stuff.

Talk about how amazing it is to start a life with someone that you are crazy about.

Because it is amazing.

Talk about how wonderful the time spent as a couple without kids is.

Because it is wonderful.

Talk about what an unbelievable blessing it is to have a child.

Because it is…. well, I don’t know about this part yet. But, I believe it will be. Even though the personal life invaders have tried to convince me otherwise.

I have decided these people are the same as the people that give a one-star product review on Amazon because they couldn’t figure out how to correctly put the batteries in their new label maker.

I want my own experience with being a parent. It will be nothing like yours. I am going to make a million mistakes that other people will roll their eyes at.

That is my decision. It has nothing to do with you. Soon, you will move on to the next expecting parent within arms reach and “help” them.

I guess we will meet again when you need to fill me in on the proper way to retire and die…

Until then.

Cheers.