The Talk

They sat on a bench on the bike path overlooking the river. The late afternoon sun lazily making its descent to the horizon. The leaves rustling in the late fall breeze.

In days past they would have sat holding hands, or at least making some sort of physical contact. Lately, they didn’t mind the space. As a matter of fact, they felt more comfortable with a bit of separation.

They looked at each other at the same time and knew that they were both thinking the same depressing thought. They sighed.

She broke the silence first, as usual.

“How did we get here?”

“Seriously? We parked the car at the park, then followed the path to the bench” he said.

Another one of his ill-timed jokes that she used to find adorable, but now she found irritating.

“Sorry, I just don’t know how you want me to answer that.”

“I want you to be honest. I want you to tell me how you feel. Why do I always have to drag things out of you?”

“You always have to drag things out of me? You’ve got to be kidding. I always tell you exactly what’s on my mind, you just don’t like the answer” he said.

“I just don’t understand why you never take things seriously. You always have to insert one of your stupid jokes to ‘lighten the mood’” she said, mocking him.

“That impression sounded nothing like me” he said, trying to lighten the mood.

“See, there you go again.”

“Well, excuse me for wanting to do things that will make you smile. You’re right, I’m the fucking asshole” he raised his voice just as an elderly couple walking their golden retriever walked by, “sorry, beautiful day isn’t it?”

The couple gave a disapproving look and continued down the path.

Don’t yell at me” she said through clenched teeth.

“I wasn’t yelling. Those two probably couldn’t even hear me anyway” a smile formed on his face, “hey, remember that time we saw that old couple making out behind the port-a-potties at the county fair? That was so romantic…”

“Don’t change the subject. This is serious and I am not in the mood.”

“That’s just it, I think you are taking this way too serious.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m the bitch, as usual.”

“No, you’re not a bitch. I’m sorry. I – I’m just bad at this and you know that.”

“I know” she said with a sigh, “it’s just that you said last time was the last time, but here we are again dealing with the same bullshit.”

“Last time was different and you know that” he said, tears were starting to well up in his eyes, “and, you said that you wouldn’t bring that up again. How are we supposed to move forward if you won’t let it go? Jesus Christ, how many times can I say that I am sorry?”

“I wasn’t going to” she said as she hushed her voice due to the man jogging by, “but here we fucking are again.”

“What do you want me to do? How can I make things right?”

“We went over this. There are two options and, at this point, I really don’t care which you choose. You just need to decide so that we can move on.”

He looked out at the water rolling by. He had been stalling, of course. He knew the decision was his to make, but it just felt like a big one. Regret has always been one of his biggest fears.

What if he made the wrong choice?

What makes things worse is that he knows that this is only going happen again. No matter how hard he tries, it will happen again. It’s just who he is and she just can’t accept it. But, he was tired of fighting. He just wants her to be happy. He wants to see that beautiful smile that he fell in love with years ago.

He sighed.

“Did you decide?”

“Yes. I did.”

“Good.”

He stared at her, determined to make the words come out of his mouth, but before he could, she broke the silence.

“So? Where do you want to eat tonight?”

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.

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

No You’re Not

“No you’re not…”

In a flash, my life changed. An entire new list of worries and responsibilities appeared as if out of thin air. The countdown has started. I finally will be forced to become an adult.

My wife is pregnant. Oh my god, my wife is pregnant. 

While it was a surprise, it wasn’t completely a surprise. We had been “trying”. I knew quite well that this would happen sooner than later. But, I thought it would be later.

I just don’t know if I’m ready.

To be clear, it’s not that I didn’t know if I was ready to be a father. I am (well, as much as can be).

As I stood in my kitchen holding my wife moments after she told me the big news, a flood of memories clouded my brain.

The realization hit me like a freight train.

I don’t want to say goodbye to this way of life. Continue reading