THE Day

It was not supposed to go down like this.  There is a bead of sweat rolling down the side of my face as I realize I have made a terrible mistake from which I am not sure I can recover. Staring across the ping-pong table from me is a grim-faced eleven-year old boy who is flexing his knees and taking every shot seriously now.  He thinks today is going to be the day.  He thinks today is the day he takes down his old man.  I have always let him stay close before pulling it out at the end but today I regret that. I have intentionally flubbed a bunch of shots but a few errors on my part (and great shots on his) has left me three points from losing.  He thinks today is the day.

“They” say the happiest and saddest day in every boy’s life is the day that he realize he can beat his father. Video games do not count. It is the day a boy can beat his father at some physical activity.  It is the happiest day because the boy realizes that he is growing up and becoming a man.  However, at the same time the boy suddenly has to face the fact that his dad is not a mythical, invincible deity, but simply a man. A man who is starting to lose the fight with Father Time.  Essentially, the boy kills his hero.

I vividly remember my day. In middle school, I was fast. I was very fast. At an extended family gathering, I mentioned this and my dad made some comment about keeping me in my place.  Not thinking he would ever accept, I challenged him to a race. To my shock, he accepted and my aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandparents all headed out to the street to watch.  I trudged through the yard already embarrassed because I knew there was no way I could beat my dad. I just never thought he would accept the challenge and now I was going to look dumb. My mom even pulled me aside and said, “Why are you doing this? You know you can’t win. You’re still a boy.”  I knew she was right and I knew that I had put myself in position that I was going to be hearing about for a long time.

At the start line, my dad looked down at me and said, “We are only doing this once. This is you’re only shot. No excuses” I nodded and got ready.  My entire family was out there and my uncle started the countdown.  “On your mark.”  Deep breath.  “Get Set…..” and my old man cheated. He was three strides down the street before I realized I had to move. This was my one shot and I started from behind.

I remember going as hard as I could. I also remember feeling a bit puzzled at how quickly I made up the “head-start.” I was surprised at the half-way point when  I was a couple strides ahead of him and feeling like I had not really even hit my stride. I was in a little disbelief by how much I won by and how I eased up a little at the end because it did not feel right.  Later, I snuck back out there and stared at the street. I was elated because I knew I could out-run grown men and I had beaten my dad. At the same time, there was an odd sense of disappointment and general weirdness. I was too young to put words on it, but later I realized it was the sadness “they ” say every boy feels when he beats his dad. Sad that his hero is really just a man who is starting to get older.

And now Ben thinks today is the day.  I can see it in his eyes. He is not jabbering about Pokemon anymore.  He is not talking about soccer. He has stopped trying to do fancy shots.  The only smile I see is the smile he is desperately fighting to stifle every time he scores. Ben thinks he is three points away from something special.

I know it’s not the day because I have intentionally let him stay close and then made some mistakes. It still takes effort to make the game close without making it obvious that I am tanking.   However, he does not know this. The scoreboard does not know this. The scoreboard says the day is three points away.

I know the day is coming. It is inevitable.  I will feel proud and a little sad.  He will be elated with a weird feeling he can not pin-point.  When that day comes, I want it to be real. For him and me.

I have three points left to make sure I push the day back. Fortunately, Ben is eleven-years-old and is starting to choke. All I have to do is keep the ball on the table and he screws up two points.  On the third point, I put a ton of backspin on my shot and watch his little dreams crumble as he bashes the ball into the net.

He drops his paddle, falls to his knees with a huge smile and yells, “Nooo!”  Ben gets to his feet laughing and gives me a huge hug.  “Dad! I almost beat you!  I thought I was really going to do it today!”

“Yeah buddy. It was close!  You will get me some day.  Today is just not the day.”

The day?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know it when it gets here.”

**Addendum:.  My dad read this blog and recalls our race.  He told me today that he knew the only way he stood a chance was by cheating.

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Broken Bones and Princesses

As I talked about in my last blog (https://theaccidentalselfie.com/2016/09/10/moving-on/), my job has changed and I now work entirely in middle schools.  It is a pretty drastic change but I am adjusting.  I enjoyed my time with elementary kids and have decided to write a short series about some of my favorite elementary memories (details altered to protect confidentiality and, more importantly, to keep me from getting in trouble).  Yesterday, I went to the juvenile home to work with a young lady. As I entered the facility I realized that I was not going to be working with many cute little kindergartners anymore and started thinking about Renee.

Renee was a super-cute kindergartner. She was the girl with the really big glasses, ponytails, dressed in sparkly girl clothes,  and  carried a Cinderella back-pack. She even had little unicorns attached to the backpack. I think I saw three unicorns one time. Basically, when a class of kindergartners walked by, people looked at Renee and said, “awwww.”

One day I was standing in the office when Renee and staff came flying in. Renee was white as a ghost and it looked like she had a new elbow. She had fallen and her arm was obviously broken. It literally took a 90 degree turn between her elbow and wrist and was just flopping.  Renee was standing in the office screaming, kids were panicking, and one staff member wretched when she saw the arm. I got Renee out of the office and into a backroom. We elevated her arm, got ice on it and I got most of the adults to leave. There were too many people.

At this point there was nothing to do but wait. Renee was screaming and every time she moved I could see the bones shifting. I could not calm her. Finally, I noticed her Cinderella backpack on the floor and said, “I met Cinderella.”  Renee froze and said, “Really?”  I knew I might have an in.

That summer I had gone to Disney World.  Their Festival of Fantasy Parade features a lot of Disney Princesses. I had a great spot and had taken a ton of pictures to share with a co-workers daughter.  It took over 40 minutes before we could get a paramedic to school (long story. don’t ask).  For forty minutes, Renee and I sat and looked at pictures of Aurora, Rapunzel and Tinkerbell.  Occasionally, she would glance at her arm, look me straight in the eye and start screaming.  When this happened I would make up a story of getting to meet a princess and she would listen.  I only had so many pictures so after a few minutes, I was stuck fabricating conversations I had when I supposedly had met Belle or Anna.  I was desperately creating fiction to match my pictures. I had to. When I stopped, she remembered her arm and would start screaming. And when she screamed, she moved. And when she moved, I could see bones shift.  Forty minutes is a long time to talk to anyone. Try having a conversation that long about my favorite princess or spinning stories to a hysterical five-year-old with a shattered arm. Throw in a bursting bladder from the gallon of coffee I require to survive my day and you have some of the longest forty minutes of your life.

The paramedics eventually took Renee.  She ended up having multiple surgeries and was out for quite a bit of time before returning with a bright pink cast. Of course it was pink.  Why do I like this story?  Super cute girls getting their arms busted should not make for favorite memories.

One.  It makes me feel a little less weird about being a thirty-nine year old man with pictures of Disney Princesses still on his phone. I really need to synch my phone one of these days.

Two. Disney stuff is powerful.  Seriously, that girl sat for a long time, in a really nasty situation, and was largely mesmerized by pictures of fictitious characters. I find that amazing.

Finally, Renee reminds me how resilient kids are and how so many of them can cling to positives and forget negatives.  Renee came back and talked to me every time she saw me in the hallway for the rest of the year.  She never once mentioned surgery. She never said a word about what must have been serious pain. The only acknowledgement she ever gave me about the accident was to once show off her pink cast.

Instead, every time she saw me, she would wave, cock her hips to the side, put her fists on her hips and say, “Hey!  Do you know who the princess of the day is today?”  I would have to stop, make my eyes wide and reply, “No!  Who is it today?”  Renee would throw her hands up in the air into a dramatic pose and say, “Iiiiiit’s Elsa!”  or “It’s Merida !”  My job was to pump my fist and say, “Yes. One of my favorites!”

I do not get a lot of positives in my line of work. By the nature of my job, I rarely am told good things. People come to me when they need something or something bad has happened.  If things are going well, I am not needed.  I see and hear things that are hard to forget and really affect how I see our society.  That’s just the nature of being a school psychologist.  That’s also the reason I have to occasionally remember the Renees of the world.  The tough little ones that move past adversity and focus on the bright, happy spots of life.  And if that means I have to be referred to as “The Princess Guy,” I’ll take it.  Small price to pay.

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Moving on

I have worked as an elementary school psychologist for about eighteen years.  This year, I asked to be moved to middle school.  The schedule works better for my family, I feel like I had burned out anyway and had fallen into habits that I did not see myself breaking. For many personal and professional reasons, it is just time to move on.

Without boring people with details, this is a huge career change. The duties are different but the biggest difference is that I am leaving a lot of really good friends and am now in a situation where I do not know anyone.  Things are going to change for me and I find that scary. I am not a fan of change and this move is not something I would typically take a chance on.

I have obviously spent a lot of time reflecting on the past eighteen years and have decided to write a series of posts about my favorite experiences in elementary. I am not going to post the sad, heart-breaking or scary stories. It is just going to be the ones that I like.  And don’t worry.  I am changing names, some details, locations, etc so that I am not risking breaking confidentiality

Todd

Todd was a seven-year-old student with Down Syndrome. Along with severely limited cognitive skills, Todd’s language was generally limited to two or three word sentences. Todd could also be naughty and thought it was hilarious to get his teacher worked up. It was easy for him too because his teacher had been involuntarily transferred from high school and was always quick to tell everyone that (see also: disgruntled)

We also worked in a very old building.  My wing had Todd’s class, my office and that was it. We were really isolated.  My office also had its own little bathroom.  One day I accidentally mentioned that to Todd’s teacher and she said it would be a good idea to use my office for her kids in a emergency rather than taking them the length of the hall. Being a nice guy (see also someone who has trouble drawing the line between servitude/consideration/putting others first and being being a doormat  a.k.a  chump) I did not say anything.

However, it quickly became an issue. The teacher made my bathroom her class’s own facility. It did not matter if I was on the phone, with a student, meeting with a family or anything. She would barge into my office and take her student to my bathroom. And she was loud. Always telling the student to hurry or talking at them. Worst, she would sit down and start griping about not working at high school and how she did not have to deal with this at high school.  It got old fast.  It was worst when she brought Todd in.  He would lock himself in the bathroom and just start laughing. She would pound on the door and try to negotiate with him, beg him, threaten him with loss of privileges or whatever before giving up, sitting down and telling me about high schools.  It was disruptive and killed huge chunks of my day. Todd would just laugh until he got bored and then he would eventually come out.

One day I was very stressed out and working on a very hard case. I heard yelling, my door burst open and Todd ran into my bathroom, locked the door and started laughing. Eventually the teacher trudged in and started banging on the door and doing the whole song and dance before sitting down and beginning to complain. I reminded her the student bathroom had no locks and she should use that. She stated it was too far. I reminded her that if she was going to use my office, she needed stay with Todd so he could not get ahead of her and lock the door. She reminded me that she did not need to do that at high school and started yelling across my office at Todd from my chair.  I was done and told her that this could not continue.  She said, “Fine, you get him out.”

I walked to the door, knocked and said, “Todd, I am counting to three and you need to open the door.”  Todd cracked up laughing.  When I hit three, I reached over, popped the bolts out of the door hinges, lifted the old wooden door off the hinges and sat the door aside.  Little Todd’s eyes were huge and his mouth hung open.  Without ever breaking eye contact, Todd dropped his pants, jumped on the toilet and took care of business.  As his teacher walked him back to class, Todd looked over his shoulder at me every five steps with eyes that were a combination of awe and puzzlement.  When he got to his room, he looked back, smiled, gave me a wave and went into his class.  From his perspective, someone lifting the door off the hinges must have been almost like a superhero.

The next day I heard the teacher yelling and Todd came bursting into my office.  He locked the bathroom door and the teacher came in and started the usual complaining. However, this time, before she could sit down,  the noises coming from the bathroom made it clear Todd was doing work.  A very short time later, the toilet flushed, the door opened, Todd strutted over to me, put his hand in the air and said.

“Poop fast. High five?”

“Todd, wash your hands first. Them high-five.”

*Hands washed, “Poop fast, wash hands, high five!” Todd blistered  my  hand, smiled and went back to class. The teacher looked at me and followed him back.

Todd never locked himself in a bathroom again and after a couple weeks we were able to get him (and the rest of his class) using the student restroom instead of my office.  However, every day I would hear a knock at my door and would open it to Todd’s giant smile.

“Poop fast! Wash Hands!  High-Five!”  He would slap my hand and move on with his day. No bathroom charts. No food incentives.  The boy just wanted a high five from someone he was impressed with.

If he was goofing around class and I walked by he would look up, run over to his seat and immediately start complying with directives  while giving me a thumbs up and a giant smile.  Eventually we had to teach him that he could not run down the hallway yelling, “Poop Fast! Wash Hands! High-Five!” whenever he saw me but that was a much smaller task than his earlier behavior.

I love the story because of how unexpected it was.  I simply needed Todd (see also: teacher who was driving me crazy) out of my office and lifted the door as a last resort.  However, the visual of that completely changed how Todd looked at me and he was determined to please me from that day on.  Nothing really profound but just funny and something I will never forget.

“Poop fast! Wash Hands. High-five!”

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When did I get old?

Today, I dropped my youngest child off for Middle School Orientation.  Somehow Ben has made it to sixth grade.  As a drove home, I wondered where the time had gone and if the next six years will go by just as fast.  I also felt really old.  I have two kids in middle schools. I must be officially old, right?

A few other things that make me realize that I have to accept the fact that I am “old.”

Born on Date:  Every store has the sign that says, “To buy alcohol you must have been born by this date in 1995.”  1995!  In 1995, I was legally sitting in a bar buying beer. People who can legally buy beer today were born while I was a junior in college. I still had hair when 21-year-olds were born. Those signs kill me.

Roller Coasters:  I took my kids to the amusement park, Michigan’s Adventure, this week.  I used to love roller coasters. I would walk off them and instantly return to the line. If no line, I would ride them back to back without question. Those days are GONE.  After riding two wooden roller coasters, I felt like I had let a boxer work over my body for twenty minutes.  I will admit , half way through the second coaster (which is notorious for being rough) I was kinda happy to look over and see Ben’s face a couple shades of green.  Yeah!  He’s not having fun!

When we got off, I played the good-dad and asked  if they enjoyed the rides and wanted to go again. Secretly I was praying that they were scarred for life and would never make me get on that medieval instrument of torture again. Frankly, I was convinced that I needed at least fifteen minutes before my internal organs returned to their original locations.  Fortunately, neither child wanted to go for Round 2 with the wooden devils and I was able to wait for my liver and kidneys to switch places.

Video Games:  I can’t even.  I want to continue to game. I grew up gaming. The games look cool but there are so many stupid buttons.  I get overwhelmed just looking at the control pads.  I mocked my father for never being able to master holding down “A” and “B” to make Mario sprint, but I kinda get it.

It does not get any easier when I am just trying to make my guy jump while my children are repeatedly killing me and mocking me to my face. “Hey James!  Watch what I do to Dad this time!”  I can send them to bed and stay up late practicing so that I can shove it in their smug little faces, but I just fall asleep or get mad and watch Impractical Jokers reruns. Old.

My body has betrayed me:  I have never been a good looking man. I get that and the baldness doesn’t help, but do I really have to go gray too?  I shaved my head the other day and looked at the hair on the ground.  It looked like someone had skinned a skunk in my yard.  Apparently my head and face look like Pepe Le Pew . And seriously, my body quit growing hair on my head long ago, but has decided to occasionally sprout giant ropes of hair out of my ear?  I’m about six months away from being Walder Frey.

While I’m on it, when did standing up become a deterrent?  Sometimes I will look around and think, “Is there anything else I should do before I sit down? ”  I mean, I could get something to drink, but then I’d have to stand up and walk forty feet to the fridge. Screw that.  Really?  The act of raising myself out of a chair is enough to make me pass on things? When did that happen? Wow. Old.

My Toys:  Two of my favorite toys when I was a kid were Electronic Football and my Shogun Warrior. Anyone remember these?

 

Do you know where I last saw them?  Behind glass. In a freaking museum. I am not joking. My childhood toys are on display at the Kalamazoo Museum. Guess what is in the neighboring display case?  A fossilized mastodon tusk!  My childhood is feet away from a hairy, extinct elephant.  That just seems unnecessarily cruel.

Clothes:  I hate buying clothes. I have the same issues as most guys but now, in addition to puzzling through concepts such as as “matching,” and “tacky” and “so last year” I need to somehow incorporate the term “Age appropriate” into my shopping experience.  I am not ready to throw in the towel and start dressing like Season 1 Walter White, but I also live in fear of being the 42 year-old bald dude who is trying to look twenty-five.  Clothes are a constant challenge of trying to end up in the “age-appropriate” wasteland between sock-garters and a black T-Shirt with skulls and wings on it. My wife remains oblivious to my challenge and only tosses in the occasional, “Yeah, that’s fine” or “That’s good enough.”  Maybe she is smart enough to realize it’s time to just throw in the towel.

However, as previous blogs have stated, even I know it is douchey for a 40+ year old man to wear a sock hat indoors or in the spring/summer.  Let’s be honest, it’s douchey for anyone between the ages of 1 and 100. If you are 101, you can wear whatever you want.

DAD!!:  I work in a female dominated profession and as a result have a lot of female friends. I spend a lot of my time working with the younger teachers as the veteran teachers generally have their game down pat and do not want me messing with it. Ever. At least once a year I get a comment like, “I was worried you were going to come in here and criticize everything I do or be really boring, but do you know what? You are actually kind of fun. You remind me of my dad!” Old. Just old.

My boys’ ages: My kids are closer to voting than diapers. They are closer to college than kindergarten. James and Ben are closer to graduating college than I am. That cute 25-year-old waitress is closer to James’ age than mine. Both boys are probably closer to their weddings than I am to mine.  It’s realistic to think James (13) may be closer to the birth of his first son than I am to his birth.  Seriously, this section makes me feel like I should be getting free coffee from McDonald’s.

Every  now and then, life reminds me that I am getting older. Let’s be honest. It is pretty much daily.  However, I still do not feel old.  I am in better shape than I have been since I was eighteen.  The last time I was at my current weight, I was a sophomore in college. Really it is just a number. Cliche, but true.

And here is my biggest take away. No matter how old I am. No matter how many times life reminds me that I have probably crossed that line into being “old” there is nothing anyone can do to make me act my age!  So, who wants to go Streak the Quad?

Happy Fourth of July

My family recently returned from a vacation to Washington, D.C.  I have always appreciated my country but have never been a flag-waiving, chest-thumping patriot.  However, this trip left me humbled and far more appreciative of what I have and where I live.

Being able to see the actual Declaration of Independence and Constitution was amazing.  Touring the Capitol Building, seeing the original “Star Spangled Banner”and Ford’s Theater while visiting all of the museums was an awe-inspiring glimpse into history.  However, what really got to me were all the memorials.

I am not a Veteran. Many members of my family have served in the military, but I have not. Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the WWII Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial really pounded home how much life has been lost for this country.  In particular, the Vietnam Memorial touched me.

We visited the Memorial a few days after Father’s Day.  As you can see, the wall was covered in flowers and letters written to the soldiers who had fallen in the war. If you can zoom in and read some of them, do it. Some of the letters were letters written from local school children. Some were written by sons and daughters thanking their lost parents for their service. Still others were from friends who had served with the lost. It was quiet, it was somber and it was extremely touching.

In particular, the veteran in this last picture got to me. I never spoke with him and do not know what his story is.  What I do know is that when he got to the end of the wall he tried to walk away three times.  Three times he tried to leave, three times he stopped and turned back to stare at the wall.  Was he remembering a friend?  A relative? Remembering his experiences? I will never know, but I know that he was still standing like this when I left.  I do not know anything about this man, but my heart breaks for him.

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At dinner, my ten-year-old son asked what made the Vietnam Memorial mean more to me than the Memorials. I have family who served in Vietnam but I explained to him what made this memorial special to me was that it personalized loss.  Ben was touched by the WWII Memorial  and the display that shows a star for every 100 Americans lost. As can be seen in this picture, there are 4048 stars.

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I explained that the number 404,800 is really too big to mean much to us, but seeing individual names on the wall makes it very real.  Seeing 58,286 names listed in chronological order of their death was extremely personal. I said that it’s easy to look at the wall and think “look how few we lost early” or “look at the sharp decrease in fatalities at the end. Look there is the last man to die in that conflict,” but when you see the name, it is real. The families of those names do not care if the name is first, on the thinnest part of the wall, located in the middle of wall or is the last name because if there is a name, there is a mother who lost her child. There is a family whose heart broke as badly as the other 58,285 families regardless of position. First, middle, or last, someone important left us. The Memorial made it more than a number, or statistic, to me.  My son cried as I explained that to him and I am proud of him for that.

This Fourth of July, I am finding myself thinking more of all those who have served and lost their lives for this country and it humbles me.  The number of graves and memorials for “unknown soldiers” staggers me. Over half the graves in Gettysburg National Cemetery are for unknown Union soldiers! They gave the same as the soldier with the most ornate tombstone at Arlington but history can not even remember their names.

This is not an anti-war blog. Sadly, it does not matter if you believe that the seeds of war were planted when Cain killed Abel or if you think that war was born when our first monkey ancestor discovered he could get a better banana by smashing a five-knuckle-bullet into his neighbor’s face, conflict resolution by force has always been with us. I wish this was not true and dream of a world where this is not the case but that is not the world we currently live in. If you feel like you can change that, please do.

This weekend try to put aside your opinion of American wars. Try not to think about whether you think a particular  war was (or is) a noble cause or powered by ulterior  motives. For a weekend, put aside your politics and how you feel about military action. Try, with a grateful heart, to think about names on a wall or graves for unknown soldiers.  Thank that guy wearing a “Veteran” hat regardless of how you feel about his war.  If you are too cool take your hat off during the National Anthem, do it just for this weekend as a tribute to someone who forfeited his chance to be as cool as  you think you are.  For one weekend look at the homeless veteran and give him a hamburger without trying to decide if he is one of our “unknowns” who may have slogged through a jungle with his friends dying all around him or if he is really just a junkie looking for a hand-out. Give the man something to eat and assume you did something small for someone who did something much bigger.

Thank you to my grandfathers who fought in the Great Wars. Thank you to my uncles who served multiple tours in Vietnam. Thank you to my dad for serving. Thank you to all current and past military personnel.  Thank you to their families. Thank you to some unknown, forgotten soldier who died beside a road somewhere fighting the British in our Revolution.  Thank you all for doing things that exceed anything I could ever do so that I can sit behind a keyboard and bang out whatever opinion I want.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!  Be safe and appreciate what we have.

Erik

 

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Facts

The following are undeniable and inarguable random facts about our world.

FACT:  Donuts are nature’s perfect food. There is no way around it.  Ever notice that the Earth’s rotation around the sun is in the shape of a donut?  That is no coincidence.  People should have Wedding Donuts instead of Wedding Cakes. Donuts should come standard with every breakfast.  I plant a little of every donut I eat in my backyard and pray that a donut bush will someday grow.  I would fertilize it with the delicious shakings that fall to the bottom of my donut bags.

FACT:  Teachers are not “lucky” that they get the summer off.  There is no giant job lottery that is conducted at the end of high school that slots people to be miners, donut bakers, doctors, mail carriers, dragon tamers or teachers. People actually choose professions. Teachers have had summers off for generations. We all know that. It is no surprise. Nobody says, “Sure, I’ll take the teaching job.  Whaaaat? I don’t work in the summer?  Who knew?”  Let me clue you in on another non-secret.  If you think educating is an easy, high-paying, low hour job, go ahead and do it.  There are tons of openings.  Nobody’s stopping you.  Who knows, you may even get “lucky” and get a few days off.

FACTOne Well Brewing is the best, coolest small brewery in Kalamazoo.  Relaxed atmosphere. Good food. Great beer. Very friendly owners and staff.  Go there.

FACT:  If you are paying your children for their athletic performance, you are a d-bag. Sorry but if you are slipping your eight-year-old cash for goals and assists, that is straight up d-baggery. I mean, I can still be friends with a bag and all, but make no mistake about it, I see your baggish tendencies. Let us ignore all the issues with the message being sent, selfishness, sportsmanship, etc and focus on the real issue… you’re modeling d-baggedness to your kids.  You are one step away from being a family who wears sock hats inside, in the spring.  Just stop. Do not create little D-baggies.

FACT:  GoBots were better than Transformers.  Intellivision was better than Atari. The world made big mistakes with those two.

FACT:  If you have someone in your life who has the courage to tell you when you are wrong, or that you are full of crap, you need to do everything in your power to keep that person in your life.  Those rare people are called “friends.”  The friend who can, in love, tell you that you messed up, that you handled a situation poorly, that you treated someone wrong, or that a situation is kinda your own fault cares about you. They want to see you stop making the same mistake and improve as a person. The friend who always agrees with you and absolves you from all responsibility will always be there to put a Band-Aid on. Again, and again, and again, and again.  “Gee, its not your fault. I agree, I am not sure why you get shocked every time you stick your finger in that electrical outlet. It’s not fair, but know that I will be right here tomorrow when you do it again!”

I’ve got a some solid friends like that in my life.  I don’t always like hearing what they have to say, but I do appreciate it. I know I make mistakes and am sometimes blind to them. There’s nothing wrong with having someone there to shed some light on things. I appreciate friends.

FACT:  There are about 5 million versions of MarioKart.  It is pretty much the same game that is continuously re-released, but somehow it continues to get better and better.  I will always buy the latest version of MarioKart

FACT:  In order to be called a pizza, it needs to have some sort of red sauce, cheese and probably meat on it.  “Pizzas” with olive oil, vegetables and spinach need to be immediately renamed “Salads on a flat bread bowl” or “Open-face salad sandwich.” Tofurkey should never be allowed within 26 inches of a pizza.

FACT:  Jasmine is Disney’s hottest princess. Fact.

FACT: Golf is a form of recreational torture. You do not run. In fact you get to drive.  Nobody is against you.  Nobody is trying to get in your way.  Their is no timer.  The ball is not moving. There is nobody trying to distract you.  In fact, every effort is made for silence and to minimize distraction.  There is simply a stupid little white ball sitting in the grass saying, “Hit me over there. That is all there is to this game. Nobody is going to bother you. I won’t move. Just hit me.”  And it is maddeningly impossible

FACT: The thought is not what counts. I’m just gonna go ahead and call B.S. on the whole “It’s the thought that counts” thing. If that was true, I would be fired, friendless, divorced, in a lot of fights, in jail, and generally much worse off. I’m kinda glad the thought doesn’t really count.  I am so screwed when someone creates an app that allows thought-balloons to appear above my head so that others know what I’m thinking

 

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My Marathon

I ran the Bayshore Marathon yesterday.  It was my fourth marathon.  Click this to read about my run last year. My only goal has been to break four hours and because I did that last year, I really had no goals or expectations for this race. My goals were simply to have fun, take a few pics, not utter an obscenity for the entire race and take the whole thing in.

My first thirteen miles are a breeze. In fact, I decide that maybe I have a shot at breaking my personal record. None of the little annoyances that plagued me last time have surfaced.  Everything is smooth, better than training, and easy through 13.1. I stop at the same porta-potty I used last year just for a laugh (read link above)  I scrap the goal of simply having fun, decide there was no way I am stopping for pics and go for it.

At mile 16, I can tell I am running out of gas a little and start to reign it in a little. After all, I have banked plenty of time during the first 15.  I start to walk the first 0.1 of each mile and run the other 0.9. Precautionary… to avoid the cramps that have shut me down before.  A young woman with a pretty cool looking hip tattoo is on a similar pace.  We pass each other several times over the next 4 miles

By Mile 20 the walk breaks are down to every 1/2 mile.  Hip Tattoo is about the same and we start laughing each time we pass each other because we knew we will catch up to each other again.  I see some friends from college spectating and make sure to look really comfortable as long as they can see me.  I am definitely slowing down but still feel OK and still have lots of time in the bank. I am going to knock 5-10 minutes off my best. Hip Tattoo and I joke about the misery we are starting to feel.

By Mile 24 I know I am in trouble. When my walk break ends, my body will not start running again. I try to dig. I insult myself, I do mental math, I pep-talk myself but my body simply mocks me and I know it is over. There is no question. I am cooked. I fail my obscenity goal. I fail it big.  Hip Tattoo disappears around a corner and I know I will not be catching her again. No matter what I try, my legs will not break a walk.  My hamstrings feel like they were being worked over by the most inept intern from Ramsey Bolton’s School of Massage Therapy. I begin to doubt that I can even walk the last two miles.

At Mile 24.5 a medical person approaches my shuffling carcass and says, “Are you one of our runners?”  I reply, “I’m trying to be.”  She asks me if I am OK.  When I reply that I am, she states “You’re swaying and can’t walk a straight line.”  I am shocked but realize I am staggering like its a 1996 walk-of-shame after a frat party.  I tell her I will be fine and keep going.  I can feel her trailing me for 50 yards but am scared to look over my shoulder because I think that I will get dizzy, fall and then be pulled off the course.  I give her a thumbs-up, yell, “I’m fine. Thank you for doing your job so well” and she leaves.  I stop a few more times and hunch over just to relax the tension on my hamstrings.  My watch passes the four hour mark.  This will be my slowest marathon (3:59,  4:07, and 4:09) but I just want to finish.

At Mile 25.1 I call my wife, Jasmine, and let her know I am going to be slower than expected.  She tells me she is going to walk back on the course and walk me in.  I make it another 0.2 miles and sit down on the side of the road.  I assure a volunteer I am fine, but I can see him talking to other volunteers and gesturing at me.  I know I need to get back up and I do not want my wife to find me sitting, or worse. I get back up and continue my Zombie Shuffle.

My wife meets me with about half a mile to go.  She walks by my side, talks with me, and grabs my shoulder when I slump.  She gets me there.  At Mile 26, I can see the finish line 0.2 miles away.  I look on the ground to my left and see Hip Tattoo.  Hip Tattoo is laying on her side with medics working on her.  Hip Tattoo has saliva dripping out of the side of her mouth. Hip Tattoo’s eyes are glassy and half rolled up. Hip Tattoo has an IV in her arm. Hip Tattoo is not going to get back up today. Hip Tattoo is going to go for a ride. Hip Tattoo is not going to finish.  Hip Tattoo made it 26 miles and went down with the finish line in sight.  My heart breaks for Hip Tattoo.

My wife leaves so I can finish the last couple hundred yards.  I have to stop half way  and walk again but finish on a run. I am so spent that the medal they put on me feels like it’s going to tip me over.  I have sudden empathy for Frodo having to lug that stupid ring through Mordor.

I am done.  I made it 25 miles in about four hours. The last 1.2 miles take me almost 24 minutes. 4:24ish.

Here’s the thing.  A year ago, I would have been crushed. My evening would be wrecked, I would have felt like I failed and would be thinking about the daunting task of starting all over.  Now I realize, that nobody cares.  Why should I? We went back to our B&B.  My wife and I spent the evening walking around Traverse City. We twice ran into college friends. We ate some great food and checked out some cool breweries. I had a blast.  I came home to my two fantastic kids. The rest of my weekend would not have been any better or worse if I had been 30 minutes faster.  Who cares?

Marathon #1 I cried after just because of the emotional dump and having finished something I never imagined doing.  Marathon #2 I sat under a tree crushed and crying because I had worked so hard to break the four hour mark and came up short.  I trained harder than ever for Marathon #3, dialed in and just beat 4 hours.  This one, I am more at peace. My training was more relaxed and my first 24ish miles were my best. End result was my worst one, but I am probably more content and more at peace than after any of the others.

I wish I had gotten Hip Tattoo’s name or had thought to look at her bib number.  I hope that she is healthy and is somewhat at peace with her race.

Four hours, or 4.5 hours as the case may be this time, does not have to make or break your day, weekend or life. There is too much other stuff in the world to enjoy.

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One Year Crazy

One year ago I sat in my doctor’s office speaking very slowly so I would not cry. I was supposedly there because I had been experiencing nervous tics for months.  My right shoulder spasm forward and my head would jerk right. I could suppress them with effort but they were getting worse.  My kids would occasionally yell, “Let’s be dad!” and would flop their shoulders around.  The previous night I had run an IEP meeting with eight people and had jerked so hard that I smacked the table and everyone looked at me. I spent the next hour running the meeting in a cold sweat with my left arm under the table gripping my right sleeve so I could not tic again.

My doctor said, “You’re a psychologist. You know this is stress related and there is nothing neurologically to treat this, so I need you to tell me why you came in.”  I finally quit, said “I need help” and she wrote the script for an anti-anxiety/antidepressant.

The Background

Everyone has reasons. I had taken the fall for a seriously messed up situation at work. It was humiliating. After a year of thinking, I could have done a few things different, but the truth is, I was the fall-guy.  Additional work changes followed that left people saying “Why are they doing this to you?” I had lost a couple friends and had a lot of personal things going on.  What they were is not important. Do I wish a few breaks had fallen another way? Yup.  Do I wish some people would have done some things differently? Absolutely. Do I blame any of them?  Nope.  This is on me. Everyone has reasons.

The point is, I became depressed, frustrated and anxious.  Every day became something to get through. Even with sleep medications, my insomnia raged. Several days, I was in my buildings at 5:30 AM when my report time was 8:40. Not because I was so far behind, but because I was not sleeping anyway and I thought I’d put the time to use.  Plus it gave me a refuge. Alone, I was able to take a break from forcing the smile and going through the act for my kids, my family, and my co-workers.  There was a constant tightness in my chest, constant exhaustion and an overwhelming feeling of being completely and totally alone.

I struggled to keep it together in front of my kids.  I lied about having after school meetings to buy time before I had to go home and put on a show.  Some nights I would say that I was going out with friends but since I really had no options, I would just go sit somewhere. Maybe a bar. A coffee shop.  Mostly a lot of parking lots. Maybe buy a beer at a gas station so I would have the smell on me when I came home.  Mostly I’d sit in my chair.

I felt a failure as a professional, a husband, a father, and a friend. I felt like everything I touched at work, at home, and with friends crumbled.

I tried to keep the act up at work but was failing. Make a joke, move to the next thing, fake a smile, keep moving.  Staff with whom I have no personal relationship began coming to my office for the sole purpose of seeing if I was OK. I was only at my new school a month  when a staff member said, “I know we don’t know you but do you always look this sad? You always seem so lonely.”  The statement that hit hardest, and for which I’m most grateful, was “Erik, I love working with you. You are great at your job and you are one of the kindest, most caring and incredible people I know, but I hope you do not come back next year. Whatever is happening to you is too hard to watch and I hate seeing it.”

And I ticked.  And I was not fooling anyone. And I quit. And I got the pills.

The Bad

I hate looking in the mirror and knowing I need to take those damn things. I hate that I could not beat it.  I definitely have a genetic predisposition toward this type of thing but I always believed myself stronger .  I hate that stupid orange bottle.

I hate that the price of my life insurance went up.  I hate checking new boxes on health forms.  Yup.  Got that.  I hate that my kids now get a little something to write about when they get older and are asked, “Do you, or any member of your immediate family have issues with depression or anxiety?”

I hate that when something does not bother me or if I handle something differently, people joke about, “Meds help!” or “That’s the meds.” Yeah, they help but I am fixing how I see things. All the positive changers are not because of the stupid little white pill.

I can not stop eating. My will power with food is shot and those meds make me very hungry. I am twelve pounds heavier than I was last March and that is with busting my butt with running.  I am not overweight but I hate the fact that I have to really work at controlling my food.

I miss my drive and competitiveness.  My running has suffered some because I do not quite have the drive to fight through things anymore.  True, I do not have the obsessiveness with improvement, but I am also much more likely to skip a run or say, “Wow, I am freaking tired. Screw this, I’m taking a break.”

The Good

Almost everything.  Things slide off my back much easier.  I do not replay scenarios in my head and wonder how I could have handled it better. I’m generally  less nervous about work and personal issues but I am far from zombified or affectively flat. I doubt most people notice much of a change.

I look forward to things. I am excited to go places and to do things.  I’m not getting through things on my calendar. I am more grateful of what I have and less resentful for what I am lacking.

I feel like I am back.  I feel like I used to feel.  I feel like myself, if that makes any sense at all.

I sleep.

This will sound crazy, but I swear the world is brighter. About three weeks after making my decision, I had to literally stop on one of my runs because I could not believe how bright green the leaves were.  I stood there looking around at the flowers, stream, and trees and marveled about how brilliantly colored everything was.  How had the world looked so dull? Smiling like an idiot,  I knew I had made the right decision. I had let myself slip so much that, for about eight months,  I had become unable to even see the world correctly.

The only reason I am writing this (besides to fulfill this resolution) is that I am embarrassed and I think the only way to get over that embarrassment is just to put it out there.  I am guessing some people will look at me different now.  I’m guessing that when I have a bad day the “Is he taking his meds?” question will be thought.  Whatever. This is me. I do not have some imbalance or disorder that I can not help. I have some thought patterns that get me in trouble.  That is on me and I can, and will, fix them.  Apparently, I just need some short-term help. I just needed to break the cloud of emotions to be able to clearly see what thoughts and behaviors were getting me in trouble. I know what they are. Now I can fix them. Then  I will get off the med. Soon enough. Just not now.

Hey, thank you to those who stuck by me. Thank you to those of you who made time to listen. Thanks to those who took notice and said something.  Thank you to my since-retired office mate who  spent the school year gently checking in on me and listening.  Thanks to the person who told me I had become a self-absorbed asshole who does not know how to treat people.  Thanks to those who had the courage to tell me they were concerned. Thanks to those who love me.

This is me.

I’m Erik.

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Shooting Spree in Hometown

A man went on a shooting spree in the town I live in last night.  Multiple locations, six dead, more wounded, shooter in custody.  Details here:  http://wwmt.com/news/local/search-for-suspect-after-multiple-fatal-shootings

There are a lot of emotions flowing through me and my friends.  The shooting started very close to my parents’ home where I grew up and they still live.  It spread, and ended, in areas that I occasionally frequent. The internet is lighting up and I am sure the city is rattled. What do we do now?

Here is what I will not do.

I will not hide in my house.  I will not wrap my children in Kevlar  and bubble-wrap. I will not limit my children’s social activities and I will not eliminate mine. I will not change my daily routines.  I will not pull the shades tighter or drive with my head lower.  In short, I will not be held hostage by the evils of this world.  Evil will not intimidate me nor rob me of the beauty in this world.

I will not use this horror to further my agenda in regards to pr0 or anti-gun control.  It is not the time nor do I believe it is the central issue to our world’s sickness.  I respect people’s passions on both sides of the issue, but I will not discuss in person or cyber-space at this time. We can talk later.

I will not be afraid. Life is too short and there is too much to do for me to spend my time worrying about catching a bullet from a random killer.  Life is not meant to be spent in fear. I will not be a mouse.

Here is what I will do.

I will pray for the injured and dead. I will pray their families and the family of the shooter. In time, I may pray for the shooter, but I am not even going to pretend to be that spiritually mature this morning.

I will coach soccer. I will get out of my car, walk across the parking without crouching and enjoy the children and the game.

I will go out to lunch with my in-laws without a moment of hesitation or fear.

I will wear my Kalamazoo clothes today because this city is still really cool and I am proud of it.IMG_3822

I will continue to let people in my life know that I love them and care about them. I will probably throw out a few random texts to people to let them know how much I value our relationships.  Instead of fearing death and losing those I love, I will celebrate life and the love I have for people. I have written it before, but tell people you love them. Tell everyone.

I will try to make the world a better place. Just a little bit better. I am pretty insignificant. I will not stop the evils of the world.  What I can do is make my small little corner of the world a little better. I will try make small gestures and comments to improve the life of those around me.

I will not let this tragedy blacken my world. Evil, fear, and terror will not win.  I will continue to live and celebrate life.  I will love and I will live.

Monday is…

Monday is to the week as….
 
* Arby’s is to restaurants
* Scrappy-Doo is to Scooby-Doo
* Alarm Clocks are to sleep
* Kids are to independence.
* Mountain Dew is to beverage.
* Ramsey is to Theon
* Aquaman is to superheroes.
* Decaf is to coffee
* Tomatoes are to fruit
* 40 is to Birthdays
* The Black Album is to Metallica
* The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings (Books. Read people)
* Chafing is to running
* Baldness is to sexy
* Spam is to meat
* Hangovers are to beer
* The Lions are to football
* Jar Jar is to Star Wars
* The anus is to the human body.

Any questions?