Ragnar Relay – Final Leg

You should probably click Ragnar Relay – Leg 1 and Ragnar Relay – Leg 2 before reading any further.

My last leg is only 6.6 miles but I am not excited about the cliff I have to run up at the end.  Check out this elevation map and the little treat that is waiting for me at the end. I joke with a tall blond runner that we better get grappling hooks.  She laughs and almost knocks my scrawny butt down when she slaps my back.  This must be what The Hound felt like when fighting Brienne of Tarth.  She leaves early and Team Beast’s 5th runner starts his leg ahead of me… again.

elevation

I finally start my watch on time.  I only need to run 8:30’s but I feel good and settle in at 7:45s.  I kill Team Beast’s runner about 1.5 miles in and say, “It’s so nice out, but I’m ready to be done with this.”  He laughs and says, “Damn it. You caught me on every one of my legs!”  Honestly, the only reason I talked to him was to make sure he noticed that. I can be such a jerk. I kill Brienne at mile 2.5.

I jacked up something in the ball of my foot on Leg 2.  It feels like there is a pebble under my skin and each foot strike is killing me. It’s still bothering me six months later.  At mile 4, I sit down, take my shoe off and try to massage it. Two things get me going. First, I’m scared my van is going to drive by and see me sitting on the road. I don’t need that kind of mocking. Second, I’m scared Team Beast is going to kill me as the foot has really slowed me down.

Running up Hacksaw Ridge is kind of a relief as my foot strikes are different. I wish I had a Sherpa right before Brienne of Tarth comes back from the dead and kills me with about half a mile left. I struggle, finish with an average pace of 8:23/mile and pass of the bracelet to Ryan for the last time. He’s only run 6 miles two or three times and he’s facing a 6.2 with some pretty long hills. Ryan’s been a little nervous about his last, and longest, leg.

This is a weird feeling. I am done. I can change into whatever I want and throw my third running outfit into a Zip-log bag (highly recommended odor-reducing trick). Ryan has to run and then Van 2 still has 3-4 hours left but it’s over for me. I’m done. As we drive to the exchange point, I can see that the Ragnar organizers really know what they are doing.  On our early drives, we saw between 0-2 runners.  Now we are driving by a steady stream of runners of various abilities.  When we get to the a drive-in theater for the Van Exchange point, it is crowded and there are a ton of people to meet and socialize with.  Ryan brings it home and Van 1 is done. All we have left to do is get to the finish line and run it in with Van 2 in a few hours.

cherry bowl

We decide that passing the time at a local brewery is not the smartest thing we have ever done. After one beer, we are all nodding off at 2:00 in the afternoon. We find some real food and meet our team about 100 yards from the finish line.  Pete comes around the corner and we all finish together.   I expected to finish around 100 out of 250 teams.  Somehow, a bunch of under-prepared, inexperienced, Ragnar-newbies who were in over their heads came in three hours ahead of our projected pace.  A finish time of 27 hours and thirty four minutes put us third in the Masters (old dude) division and 13th overall! Of all the races I have run, this is some of the best swag I have been given. The team medals are amazing and I love the baton for placing.

finishMedalsbaton

The next six or seven hours are actually pretty challenging.  The lack of sleep, and age, makes brewery hopping challenging and ten times tamer than it was 20 years ago but it is so much fun. I am able to have some pretty serious conversations with a couple guys I have not spoken to in 20 years.  As the night progresses, guys start dropping out and promises are made to do better about keeping in touch with the unspoken understanding that not much will change unless we see each other at Ragnar 2018.  The night ends at a brewery with people sharing their favorite part of the race. There are laughs. I talk about how cool it was to see everyone from my van at each exchange point.  Brownie talks of stepping over what he believed was a roadkill opossum until it got up and ran. The Smurf chokes me up a little as he talks about his 3AM leg.  He shares how he turned off his his music and head lamp (sorry Ragnar) before spending two miles running along Lake Michigan talking with someone whom he had recently lost. We all vow to race again next year and start trying to think of how to move up a few spots.  A 12th runner would help so Marty, Mark, and Greg don’t have to carry an extra leg.  Getting a Beast of our own wouldn’t hurt.

overtimeteam

One of my all-time favorite weekends ends and everyone goes their separate ways.  Ragnar was way more fun than I had anticipated. Truthfully, I had doubts that we would ever actually do it and kind of wanted it to fall through at various times. However, it far exceeded my expectations for fun.  I had the perfect team.  I also found it to be far less physically demanding than I expected.  With a 12-man-team, there is plenty of rest between legs.  Taking care of nutrition, bathrooms, and sleep can be a tiny bit tricky but I found the actual running to be less challenging than I expected.

Ultimately, I am a very blessed man.  I have been blessed with a family that not only lets me take a weekend for Ragnar, but encourages it. I am blessed to be able to financially run Ragnar. It’s not cheap. Entrance fees, food, travel, post-race lodging, gas and various other expenses make Ragnar a very real financial commitment.  I am blessed with health and a body that can drive all over northern Michigan while running 16-17 miles.  I am blessed that over twenty years ago I spent some time running around a campus with a bunch of guys wearing Greek letters. Everyone went their separate ways, but two decades later we were able to re-connect, plan out, and commit to a pretty intense race and I felt like we had never really missed a beat. For two days, I felt like it had only been a couple months since I had seen everyone and I am extremely grateful for those relationships.  I am a very blessed man.

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Ragnar Relay – Leg 2

If you haven’t read Ragnar Relay – Leg 1, you’re not going to have a clue what I’m talking about.

I forgot to start my watch again.  I am also regretting buying the cheapest headlamp I could find. It’s 11:00 PM, pitch black, and I’m running on some really chewed up roads. It’s only a 3.5 mile leg, but I have to run with my head tilted down so my cheap light will show the uneven terrain.  I am in the middle of nowhere.  In fact, I hear coyotes yapping and see several deer, opossums, and what I can only assume are Sasquatch by the road. My entire run consists of following the stupid white road line, glancing at my watch, and quick glances up to search for flashing red lights.  Ragnar requires that runners wear reflective gear and a flashing light on your back for the night runs.  It’s hard to judge distance, but each flashing light is a runner I want to track down.

For the second time, I “kill” Team Beast’s runner.  The guys on our team have talked about not seeing another runner for their entire legs but I know we have made up some serious time as I get 7 kills on this leg.  There are a lot more people around now.  I finish my leg having averaged 7:04/mile and am gassed. I pass off the bracelet to Ryan and start to search for the rest of my team.  It’s pitch black, everyone is wearing headlamps and quite frankly I’m pretty light-headed and dizzy after that leg.  All I can see, is a bunch of headlamps glaring at me and I accidentally wander into the woods until I can get my bearings.  I suddenly know what ET must have felt like at the beginning of his movie. I get mocked.

night

However, this is what I love about my team.   We have seen runners from so many other teams finish and say, “Where’s my next guy?” Some have had to go knock on van windows to get their next runner.  We never spoke about it, but everyone from our van met our runner a the end of every leg and saw the next guy off.  It didn’t matter if you were running the next leg or not. Everyone was there. Every time.

After Ryan again finishes his leg quicker than expected, we get the real Ragnar experience.  We drive an hour up the road, park in the middle of a racetrack with a hundred other vans and try to sleep from 1:00AM to 5:00AM while Van 2 runs the graveyard shift.  Almost every other team has rented massive vans. We are cheap and piled into our minivans and now I kind of regret it.  Everyone tries to play Tetris with their seats, keeps the van running for heat and tries to sleep in a weird position. It’s not comfortable, but what do you expect from a bunch of under-trained, inexperienced Ragnar newbies who are over their heads?

Van

I never sleep well in situations like this and end up getting 40 minutes. Part of it is that I was slow to recline my seat and got stuck in a miserable position. Part of is that other teams are coming in later than us and are socializing by the vans.  The bigger factor is that I am in a van with four other guys.  All of us have between seven and 14 miles on our legs and have been eating bad combinations of protein shakes, Gatorade, PBJ, trail mixes, jerky, etc.  The result is a symphony of flatulence on par with the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles.  It’s not a bunch of immature guys giggling away. In fact, everyone is asleep while they are dropping bombs.  It’s actually kind of amusing and I just smile as I track Van 2’s progress via texts.  However, the music of these four hours makes me vow to never run a co-ed Ragnar.

Sleep

It’s still dark when Craig takes off to start our Van 1’s last series of legs. Craig, Mark, and Marty picked up an extra leg and the following week we would learn that Craig had run four legs, totaling over 20 miles, on a bad stress fracture in his tibia.

We are all tired, and frankly kind of cold, as we wait in some random field for Craig to finish but everyone in my van is having so much fun that it does not really matter.  There is literally a rooster crowing as Marty starts his final leg.  Whereas we were the only ones at our first few exchange points, this one is crowded. We get to talk to teams that started significantly ahead of us. Some teams have dropped out. A few have picked up injuries or are slower than expected. We are just excited to have other teams around.

morning

Actually we are more excited that there are actually lines for the porta-potties. Sorry. This is the ugly side of Ragnar.  When you start in the last wave and quickly drop to last place, that means that 250 teams of 12 people have all been through those things before you arrive. Paint your own picture. If there are lines, that means there have not been as many people through.  Ragnar tip: Pack your own roll of TP.  You won’t regret it. Sorry.

Exchange ptteam

At 9:30 AM, I am standing at the start line for my last leg. It is warm. The sun is shining and I am completely relaxed.  I usually run angry. I tend to let my mind wander to things that bother me, people who have wronged me, or my frustrations and then run them out. It’s kind of my own weird running therapy.  However, this morning I have had way too much fun.  I have spent the past 21 hours with great friends and with guys I have not spoke to in two decades.  I can find nothing to piss me off and quite frankly do not even try.  I am looking forward to finishing this last 6.6 miles of Leg 29 and being done.

Our experienced runners have come through right at their predicted times or a little faster. Our less experienced guys have killed it and far exceeded expectations. The weather has been perfect. With little rain, we have been able to stretch our legs at the checkpoints instead of huddling inside a van. There have been very few glitches. Somehow, we are far ahead of our predicted finish.  I am expected to run this at around 8:45/mile which should be pretty easy. I feel like I have done my job with my first two legs and decide to just enjoy this one.

Team Beast’s Leg 29 runner takes off a few minutes before me.  Whoever their Beast is, must be really fast because this is the third time their runner has started ahead of me. But, he’s not that far ahead.  He’s mine…..

Final leg to follow

 

Ragnar Relay – Leg 1

How did I end up standing at the starting line next to a man wearing nothing but running shoes and a tuxedo Speedo? I got here because I let ten of my Hope College fraternity brothers talk me into running the Ragnar Relay.  Ragnar is a 200ish mile relay from Muskegon, MI to Traverse City, MI. Basically there are two vans.  The five guys in Van 1 run legs will run the first six legs (ranging from 3-9 mile/each) before letting the six guys in Van 2 run the next six legs.  We will continue  to trade off until we all have run 3-4 legs each over the next 30 hours. Thirty six legs totaling about 200 miles.

start line
We were not smart. The first wave of teams started at 6:00 A.M. We put in an unrealistically fast prediction time and were placed in the last wave.  We are starting at noon with the elite teams. About 240 teams have head starts on us that range from 1-6 hours. We should not be here. A few of us are pretty serious runners.  However, about half of us are casual, at best, runners. A couple just started two months ago. Sips was a last minute replacement. I don’t think we are ready for this. The team next to us has run a half-dozen Ragnars and  is doing group stretching, sipping protein drinks while rolling their legs out with contraptions that look like a cross between a medieval torture device and an elaborate sex toy.  I’m leaning against our van eating a PBJ and trying to swing a last minute fantasy football trade.  We are way out of our league. There are going to be a lot of lonely miles. We are predicted to finish around 6:00 tomorrow night (30 hours total) but  I am actually worried that we may miss the post-race party which only runs from until 7PM.

Craig takes the first four mile leg and the rest of us drive to the first checkpoint.  Tuxedo Speedo blazes through first.  The third runner through starts puking in the bushes. Kinda early for that.  His teammates mock him. Craig is the sixth guy from our wave through and passes off our bracelet to Mark.  We had a last-minute drop, so Mark has to run the next two legs for a total of 13 miles. I talk to the last runner to finish Leg 1.  He is not worried because their “Beast” has leg 3. Over the next day I discover that most teams have a “Beast.” That’s their ace runner who everyone knows will make up their time.  The Beast reels teams in and saves time.  I am feeling pretty low as we pile in the van and head to the next exchange. We don’t have a Beast.

We are the only ones there. Two-hundred-forty-nine teams have passed checkpoint 3. The volunteers are packing up and are stating that they can go home as soon as the last team gets through. That’s us.  Dead last. Two-hundred-forty-nine teams stretched out over 200 miles and we are last.  The organizer asks if we are having fun. I explain that we are but that we were placed in the wrong wave. Instead of racing with other runners and hanging out with other teams at the checkpoints, we are doomed to 180 more miles of empty roads and being the last one at each checkpoint.  He explains that the teams starting two hours ahead of us are averaging 10:30 miles and that we should do the math.  My team is made up of nerds. The 11 frat rats now total 2 MDs, 3 PhDs, a S.Psy.S, and 5-6 Masters degrees.  Of course we are going to do the math.

We should average 8:30/miles. That means we should start catching the 10 AM starters in about 60 miles.  Suddenly, and for the first time, I feel like running is actually a team game. Even if I don’t see anyone on my leg, I can cut some serious time off a team way down the road. I may never see that team, but maybe The Smurf from Van 2 will catch that person tonight at midnight.  Now, I’m excited.

Mark finishes and comments that he forgot to turn his watch on for the first mile. I mock him.  Marty takes off for his 9 miler and I know I am going to be up next. We drive up the road before needing to double back to scour the weeds for Mark’s lost phone. I feel terrible for him as we give up the search and pile back in the van. I am then amazed to see that his phone has been on the hood of the car and managed to stay there for about a mile of driving. What are the chances?

Standing in the chute for my first leg, I realize that Marty may have made our first kill.  “Kills” are Ragnar for “teams passed.” Some teams mark their kills on the windows of their van.  At least that’s what I hear. It’s not like we have seen anyone. Marty hands me the bracelet and I take off for my 6.8 mile leg.  At this distance, I always try to go too fast for the first half mile. I like to burn the adrenaline off and then settle into a fast pace. It’s easier for me than trying to build up.  I also refuse to check my watch for the first half-mile. I know that I am supposed to run 7:30 miles. I’ve been sick. My training has sucked. I have little faith.

Leg 1

About half a mile in, I check my watch. I regret mocking Mark and decide not to tell him that I forgot to start it. I discover that I took that first half mile way too fast and settle in.  I can see two teams ahead of me. I am going to get a couple kills. One is from the team I spoke with earlier. Marty and I have erased the lead his Beast got. I get my two kills. As I run along the lake and weave through neighborhoods, it is clear that I am not going to see another team. It is so tempting to take my foot off the gas, but I keep reminding myself that any time I can save will pay off somewhere. If I push harder here, maybe Greco will catch one more team on his 2:00 AM leg.

I finish my run with 7:20 miles. I am really fired up.  My run should have knocked about 21 minutes off the 10AM starters and even more off the teams that started earlier. I hand off to Ryan and watch him leave. This is Ryan’s first real race. I am very excited for him and also concerned. He only has 4 miles this leg, so he should be fine.

My Van drives to the first exchange point and meets the guys from Van 2. We have some time to catch up.  A few of these guys I have literally not seen in 20 years. Pete flew in from Phoenix. I  have not spoken to Steiner since I walked off campus.  Amazingly, the conversation is still easy. There is mostly talk of the race and a growing sense of excitement. Van 1 came in significantly ahead of our predicted time. Most of the teams have already left, but not all of them. The teams that leave while we wait for Ryan are not that far ahead of us.  There are still 30 legs left and the night runs to deal with, but we are having a blast.

Exchange 2     Exchange 1

Ryan comes in faster than expected and Steiner starts Van 2’s legs. We have a lot of time to kill as Van 2 runs the next 30ish miles. My next leg should be start around 11:30 PM. It’s time to eat, keep stretched, and enjoy a break.

Leg 2 to follow….

 

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So Your Wife’s a Runner – What to Expect

So, the New Year has started and improved fitness is probably on a lot of resolution lists.  Running is a popular form of fitness and I am guessing more than a few of you have wives, girlfriends, or significant others who have resolved to start running, run a 5K, half-marathon, or marathon.  As a long time husband of a runner, let me tell you what to expect.

1. Sorry guys. It ain’t happening.

We have all seen what the men and women on the cover of running magazines look like.  A quick flip through the magazines will also turn up phrases such as: Improved muscle tone, increased self-esteem, weight loss, more at peace, increased energy, etc.  When one plugs those variables and pictures into any basic Dude-Calculator, we can clearly see that Running = More sex. It seems pretty clear and we all rush out to buy shoes, Gu, and anything else that will support her resolution.

However, the man-algorithm does account for one variable. The Long Run. For non-runners, most training programs have you run mid-week with your longest run being on Saturday.  Familiarize yourself with the following phrases, “Not tonight, I have a Long Run tomorrow,” “Not today, I had my Long Run this morning, ” “Not today. This is a recovery day from my Long Run,” and “Not tonight, I had to carb-load for my Long Run.” The Long Run is the Runner’s headache. Be forewarned.

2. Women run in packs

I consider myself a runner but train exclusively by myself. My wife finds it physically impossible to run without her pack. For some reason, it is virtually impossible for her to run outside of a neon-colored herd.

Apparently, in order for the runner-pack’s complex social hierarchy to work properly, the pack must also congregate outside of running.  Run-group coffee, brunches, girls-nights, races and drinks are integral to the pack’s functioning.  My wife attends more Run-group events without running shoes on than with them (See #1).  The pack also directly contributes to….

3. The Time Warp

Once again, Man-Math fails us. When I walk out the door I say, “Jazmine, I’m going to run 8 miles at about 8:00/mile.  I’ll be back in about 65 minutes and then I’ll take Ben to soccer.”

When Jazmine walks out the door, I hear, “We are going to run 4 miles at 10:00/mile.  I’ll be back in 4 hours. Don’t forget Ben’s soccer.”  The math does not add up to most men. However, we fail to factor in the pack-factor.  Runs also include pre-run coffee chats, brunches after,  got-caught-up-chatting-in-the-parking-lots,” or, worst of all, “I decided to stop into Target on the way home.”  When she steps out the door for a run, time becomes fuzzy and can not be measured by the usual instruments. Do not even try. The Time Warp simply can not be quantified.”  They say dogs have no sense of time and whether you leave for an hour or a week, it feels the same to them. The Runner Time Warp is pretty much the same.  It may also explain why The Long Run occurs once/week but can be mentioned seven days per week.

4. Gifts 

This Christmas, Jazmine said the words every husband wants to hear, “I want you to buy me underwear for Christmas.”  Of course I will.  In fact , I have several interesting options bookmarked on my phone as we speak.  Let’s talk about this!

We were on different wave-lengths. While I clearly was forgetting Point #1, my wife was showing me what underwear runners want for Christmas. Apparently, extra-warm, moisture-wicking, wind resistant (huh?), winter running underwear is a thing. And that thing is a mere $40. And it comes in beige. And I bought it.

Your gift list will forever now contain phrases such as: Gore-tex, hydrating, refueling, blister-preventing, safety, carbs, warm, functional, and orthopedics.

5. You Will Never Sleep

Allow me to circle back to the Long Run and the Pack.  As the gazelle needs its herd to bound across the African Savanna at daybreak, so too will your wife need her pack to Long Run at the crack of dawn. The gazelle is highly motivated every morning. Something about the threat of a lion eating them tends to get them moving.  The Long Run Pack’s commitment level varies from member to member and does not equal that of the gazelle.

As a result, between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 AM on Saturday you will be awoken to the sound of her phone exploding with texts from the Pack. “Little Bronn has a cold. I’m out.” “My IT band is sore, I’m out.” “I’m not 100% sure where I am, I’m out.” “Yeah, there is no lion chasing us. My bed’s warm. I’m out.” I have made Jazmine change her text ringer to crickets chirping, so I can pretend that each text is the sound of a lazy gazelle getting picked off by a lion somewhere.

6. Finally, She Will Have Much More Fun than You.

In my experience, my female friends tend to enjoy running more than we do. My personal opinion is that  this is because women tend to generally be better human-beings than we are. I have been running about five years.  I have made zero friends through running. When I train, I do it solo, start with the thought of “Let’s get this over with” and come in exhausted.  I do not meet people at races as I am there to see how fast I can go, beat as many people as I can, get my swag and then go home.

On the other hand, my wife has an entire new network of running friends. She enjoys her training runs and seeing her friends.  She is smiling and laughing at all races. She spends time socializing and meeting new people after her races. Most of her friends are the same.

So, your wife’s a runner. What can you expect. Ultimately, you can expect that she is going to meet people, have a good time and will generally enjoy the experience. And you will enjoy watching it.

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Dragons

Every  night the dragon came and every night Keri fought it.  At first, it was a minor nuisance.  A small little lizard that appeared at sunset, scratched at her window and was easily chased away.  But in the past months, it had grown. Not only was the dragon larger and more fierce, but it was fighting longer and longer. Still, it was always beaten back by sunrise.

Keri continued to deliver wood to the villagers. A few of them whispered of seeing strange lights and noises coming from Keri’s land at night, but few thought much of it. Keri continued to bring wood and what business of theirs was it? After all, nobody really believed in dragons.

The monster continued to grow and Keri’s battles now stretched throughout the night.  While once, she had been simply able to chase the dragon away, she now spent the evenings fending off its attacks.  She no longer troubled herself with trying to beat the dragon back but simply tried to survive until the dragon grew bored and fled.  Worse yet, the dragon now brazenly stayed until the first rays of sun stretched over Keri’s land.

Keri began having difficulty making her deliveries on time. Most of the villagers quickly forgave her, but whispers began.  Some wondered why Keri continued to wear long tunics in the heat, but others caught glimpses of the bruises or the long, bloody claw marks that ran the length of Keri’s arms from where the dragon had raked her.  While Keri’s deliveries had once been a source of peace, she now caught glimpses of the dragon stalking her.  Even during the day.  A tail disappearing beneath the underbrush beside the road.  A curl of smoke coming from behind a pile of rock.  Always there. Always waiting for sunset.

At the town festival, a battered Keri was approached by the Men in Orange.  Her head swam from her drink, but she eventually told them that she was fighting a dragon. To  her surprise, they did not mock her. They believed her. They slammed their steins on the table and swore their allegiance. The Men in Orange told her to light a signal fire when the dragon next attacked. They would come riding and together they would kill the dragon.

For weeks, Keri lit a fire every night that the dragon arrived.  As the dragon pummeled her, she stared down the road desperately searching for a sign of orange. It never came and she stopped lighting fires. Occasionally, a neighbor would wander by and throw rocks at the dragon, but it had grown far too powerful to be repelled by stones.  Finally, at dawn, the dragon pinned her to the ground. The morning sun hit its face and it was unfazed. It leaned forward and hissed into Keri’s ear, “This is the last time I leave. You will never be rid of me” and flew off.

Keri delivered wood and feared the coming night.  She did not know if the dragon’s threat was a promise to torment her forever or if it intended to carry her away.  Her last stop was a reclusive old man. He noticed Keri’s bruises and told her that he had seen the dragon following Keri. He pitied her and produced a sword that he claimed had killed dragons for generations.  Keri skeptically took it and and returned home.

That night, the dragon came and Keri killed it. There was no battle. The dragon approached and the sword easily pierced its scales.  Keri looked at the dead dragon in disbelief. Its body began to shrivel and shrink before her. She quickly cut off its head and hid it away.

Every night, Keri slept beside her sword but no dragons came.  With the dragon gone, smaller monsters that troubled all of the villagers began to occasionally approach Keri’s land. Goblins, spiders, and trolls were quickly disposed of. What chance do they stand against a sword that kills dragons? Eventually, even they stayed away from Keri and nothing bothered her.

A year later, Keri no longer slept by her sword and had it safely hidden underneath her floor boards.  The village prepared for its annual festival.  As the people danced in the commons, Keri rode into town and mounted the dragon’s head on a stake in the village square. The crowd momentarily hushed before everyone began talking at once. The children ran to the head in order to see a monster.  Some sat in silent disbelief as they had never believed in dragons.  Others murmured that they had thought they had seen dragons around.  Neighbors apologized for not having better weapons than stones. The Men in Orange swung their swords in the air and roared that they would stand beside anyone to kill dragons if they would only light a signal fire.  Some claimed to have killed dragons themselves.

The festival wore on for days and the dragon became less of an oddity. Merchants traded goods.  People gamed. The Men in Orange filled their cups and danced.  Someone produced a chicken with two heads. Children flocked to see a dancing bear.  Keri removed the dragon’s head and threw it in the lake.

Keri lives quietly on her land now.  She delivers wood to the village. Time has passed and she barely remembers the dragon.  Occasionally, she is startled from her sleep by a scratching noise at her window but it is always a branch from a tree.  A shadow falling over her causes her to flinch but she knows the shadow is only a hawk and not dragon wings. Still, she watches.

The village exists. Its wheels turn. They still gather every day to work, talk, and play before returning to their own lands and whatever waits for them there.  Keri believes there may still be dragons out there but does not believe they will bother her again.   She delivers her wood with a smile and confidently walks through her lands unarmed.

Real parenting milestones

You always hear about the cute little milestones.  First steps, first words, first tooth falling out, first haircut, first time going to school.  These moments are supposed to be so magical, but I am going to be honest with you.  All the little Hallmark milestones are nice but they have not elicited the biggest emotional responses out of me.  Let me break down the real parenting milestones.  The milestones that actually elicit the biggest emotional responses. Some good, some bad, but these are the important ones.

First Day without the Diaper Bag

More than any other day, this day brought a tear to my eye.  The first time you can yell into the other room, “Hey boys, we gotta go” and then simply walk out of the house is the single most liberating moment of parenting.  No more hoisting a 75 lb diaper bag onto your shoulder. No more checking their shoes.  No more wondering if you restocked that bag with back-up underwear, wipes, flares, or snacks.  No more wrestling the boys into the car seat.  No more pinning down the flailing little monster with 17 layers of coats while you desperately try to fasten a 5-pt harness onto what looks like a writhing mini-Michelin Man. No more trudging into the snow looking like a Sherpa.  The day when the time between announcing that it’s time to leave and putting the key in the ignition is under 37 minutes has been the greatest day of my parenting career.

“Dad, don’t put it into reverse until I buckle my own seat and you stop crying?”

“I’m sorry son. I’m just so happy.”

First time ordering off of Adult Menu

This one just sucks.  “Dad, I don’t want a mini grilled-cheese with apple slices and a plastic cup of juice.  I want the Bomb-Burger with fries and a Coke with refills!”

This milestone is not sad because you realize that your son is becoming a young man.  There is no moment when you sadly look at the boy before you and see a pudgy little baby cramming Puffs and Cheerios into his mouth. You do not flash back to a tiny infant drinking 6 oz of milk, belching and falling into a bloated, post-meal coma.

What you see is your bill tripling.  What you see is the waitress carrying away about a third of that Bomb-Burger because your little glutton power chugged 40 oz of carbonated sugar before the meal even showed up.  You are sad because you know you are going to be eating out far less.

Toileting

Obviously, when the kid starts using the toilet there are a million obvious pluses.  Obviously, you are done with diapers. You are done with wiping stinky butts.  The diaper bag shrinks or disappears.  Your hands are not longer chafed from the constant washing after handling wet underwear.  There is no longer that hint of “used-diaper” smell that has always lingered in your house.

Here is the real pay-off.  You no longer shackled to a littler person’s excretory system.

“Dad, I need to use the potty.”

“Yup. Better do something about that.  Hey, when you’re done, why don’t you grab me on of those Girl Scout Tagalongs on your way back?”  Pure magic.

First sleep-over

Yes, your child is growing up.  Yes, this is a new level of independence.  Maybe some people are even a little sad that the child no longer needs them quite as much.

But you get to have sex again! And foreplay does not involve the phrase, “Do you think they are asleep?”  You do not have to sneak into each room to double check that they are deep into the REM phase of sleep. You do not have lock your door and set so many security cautions that even semi-sane Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible can not drop in.

True the ultra-erotic bedroom banter of “Wait..Shhh.. shhh.. be quiet! Do you hear Ben?” ends.  You do have to live without my personal favorite, “Don’t move.  I’m serious. DON’T MOVE! Maybe he’ll just flush, wash his hands and go right back to bed. Steady… steaaaaady.. I think he’s almost back in his room… Hooold.. Hooooold… I think he just closed his door…Hey! wake-up!” but it is so worth it.

I got my fist speeding ticket after dropping my boys off at their sleep-over.

First Time Watching Awesome Movies

I had no problem living through years of animated movies and TV shows when the biggest danger was that maybe, just maybe, Daisy wouldn’t be able to finish Goofy’s birthday before the surprise party. Will the Wiggles eat their fruit salad? Will the Imagination Movers finally not be able to brainstorm an idea to get Warehouse Mouse his cheese? Will a Higglytown Hero please just save the day! I’m fine with that.

However, it’s a very special day when you can sit down as a family and watch a Hobbit slog across Middle-Earth for over nine hours without fast-forwarding, editing or trying to explain that those forty arrows probably just tickled Baromir. No son, he’s dead. In fact, every time you ever see Sean Bean, you can just start preparing yourself that he’s going to die. Cows kill Sean Bean.

 

The expansion of movies that we can now watch produces sentimental, deep conversations such as…

“Dad, Aragon just chopped that orc’s head off!  That was awesome. Why are you crying again?”

“Come here and hug your dad.”

I’m not stupid. My boys are not watching anything related to Westeros and I have limits, but being able to watch a show that we all enjoy is an incredible parenting milestone.

“Dad. Are the clones good or bad? I mean, they help the Jedi, but they will eventually be Stormtroopers and they are bad, so are they good, bad, or just do what they are told?”

“Sshhh, little one.  Yoda is about to lay the hurt on Dooku. This is going to be awesome because for years I have carefully planned out the correct order to show you these movies so that when you eventually suffered through these prequels, you would find these next forty-five seconds amazing. Why?

Because I know what the important moments really are.”

Parenting sucks

Being a dad is the best thing I have ever done.  I love it.  I love playing with my kids, I love seeing them grow and learn. They make me smile more than anything else in the world. I have been blessed with two boys who I am extremely proud of. They are kind, well-mannered, thoughtful and considerate young men who I can (generally) trust to do the right thing. I know that both of them are going to be far better men than I am and that is all I can ask.  I would not change my boys or my parenting experience for anything.

But let’s be honest.  Parenting sucks.  There are the obvious suck factors. There are the  financial strains. The sports fees, clothes, toys, gas for chauffeuring and the occasional feedings are mind-boggling.  I could be quite well off without my financial parasites.

There are the endless hours of crappy television. Sitting through hours of performances to see your kid do something of 180 seconds.  Favorite clothes ruined by vomit, feces, or jelly. Property destruction. Barney.  The realization that you haven’t had a non-kid conversation with your wife since Bush was in office. Sleep deprivation. The Talk. Realizing your kids can stomp you in MarioKart. Dinner battles. Homework Wars. Jar Jar. Suck, suck and suck.

However, this single thing that sucks most about parenting is having to let my sons fail. I disagree with a lot of people who rush to rescue their kids from failing, work hard to avoid putting their children in situations that are uncomfortable or simply refuse to let their children be wrong.  Don’t get me wrong. It breaks my heart to see my kids fail or become frustrated with something. I turn into a neurotic mess when I drop them off at something that they are not familiar with and count the minutes until I pick them up again. I hate it more than any other aspect of parenting but I know I have to do it.

I do not want to raise boys who do not know how to cope with failure, who are scared of the uncomfortable or do not know how to handle adversity because I have shielded them from it. I screw up every single day. Frankly, it’s more of an hourly habit for me. I fail at parts of my job, as a friend, as a husband, and as a father. Guess what happens?  I try fix it and move on because I’ve learned how to deal with failure.  I certainly get enough practice.

Life is going to be uncomfortable for my kids.  At some points, things will go south. Friends will betray them.  People will fail them. They will screw something up and it will be nobody’s fault but their own. And let’s be  honest.  James looks exactly like me and Ben acts exactly like me. That means they are both doomed to some pretty spectacular dating failures in the next few years. It’s going to happen. I hate it, but it’s true.  However, when it happens, I do not want it to be like falling off a cliff.  Maybe more of a bump on life’s hill.

One of my worst parenting experiences was watching Ben not make a soccer team he wanted. I saw the try-outs. I knew he was not gonna make it but I watched his face and saw the exact moment he realized his number was not going to get called. It broke my heart.  Not because he came up short, but because I had to watch him hurt. Watching him hold the tears until the parking lot and listening to him cry in his bedroom killed me. I hugged him, talked to him, or just sat with him for what felt like forever.  No part of me wants to put him in that position again, but in three months I will.  Every part of me wants to either drop him at try-outs and pick him up at the end or make my wife, Jasmine, take him, but I will do it.  I will do it because in the greater scheme of things, the results of the try-out will  not matter but Ben being in position to learn how to handle failures, as well as success, does matter.

I think the reason I hate it so much is that it’s taken me thirteen years of parenting to realize the stupid “This hurts me more than it hurts you” cliche has some merit. My kids rebound fast but it takes me longer to get over seeing them struggle. If you were to ask Ben today about not making the team he had hoped for he would say, “That sucked. Can I make some popcorn?”  On the other hand, it has been eight months and I still feel a little physically sick  when I write about watching his reaction to being placed on a different team.  I have started to wonder if the reason so many parents will not let their kids be uncomfortable is really for the parent to avoid having to witness it. I wonder if the “rescue” is really a selfish act?  I don’t know.

Most parenting “sucks” really are not that bad. I’m OK being home on St. Patrick’s Day writing a stupid blog instead of being out.  Being impaled by Lego is part of the job. Seeing nothing but animated movies for a decade is a small price. If I could give up one part of parenting, it would be having to watch my boys work through adversity without swooping in to rescue them.  However, if that were the case, I feel like I would not be helping them. I truly believe that letting them experience and work through bumps along the way will help them better deal with some of the inevitable tough times life with throw their way. Doesnt’ mean I have to like it though.

Upon further review

Well, I completely struck out on my 2016 resolutions. Upon further review

1) Try one thing new each month. Yeah, honestly 2016 just got away from me.  I made t 7/12 months, but more often than not, I would just realize it was the end of the month and not have time to think about it. For a couple months, I tried to fool myself by saying, “Well, technically I have never worn red running shoes, so this counts” but when you get down to it, that is just weak.

2) Give a random gift each month.  Eight for 12.  Made it until June then just got lazy.  Made myself feel slightly better by sneaking one in at the end of December but let’s be honest.  That’s kind of the same as suddenly flossing like crazy the week before your dentist appointment and thinking it makes things better.

3) Get a third and final tattoo.  Just didn’t find the inspiration and I’m not putting a unicorn, dolphin or the Noid on my body.  Was close on a couple ideas, but they fell through.

I rarely fail at resolutions so 2016 was as disappointing as a Star Wars prequel.  As a result, I’ve simplified my 2017  resolutions.  I have lowered my levels of expectations to line up more with what I would expect form a 2018 Mariah Carey New Year’s special.  Here we go.

First, I’m gonna lose five pounds.  I have no desire to get back down to my multiple-marathon, insomniac, stressed out weight.  Just want to take off a couple little extra lbs I added. As a sub-resolution that is going to require a slight dietary change that I fear.

Second. I’ve already committed to getting together with a good friend a set number of times this year.  It is easy to let time and distance drift friendships apart, but I going to make sure I put my time into people who have always been there for me.  Those are the relationships that matter and deserve my attention. No more begging from Erik.

I want to get back to learning the guitar.  I am a pretty quiet guy and what people don’t realize is that if I am interested in something, I devote myself pretty intensely to it.  I have zero natural musical ability and was learning to play guitar. For about a  year, I was extremely consistent with my practice but then I hit a particularly rough patch in my life (read this for more details https://theaccidentalselfie.com/2016/04/03/one-year-crazy/) and went on Lexapro for a year.  It helped immensely but killed the crazy competitive drive I had. It was actually kind of liberating but I was no longer as compulsive about anything, including guitar practice.  I got my stuff together and have been off the Lexapro for about nine months now.  I have lightened up so much and look at things differently and as a result, that drive has not really come back. That is fine with many things, but my guitar has not been touched in probably 16 months. I am back at ground zero.  I would like to change that this year.

My final resolution was inspired by a recent interaction I had on January 1.  I ran into someone I had not seen in a while who, without a hint of sarcasm, thanked me for being “such an inspiration” to her. She then told my wife some very flattering things about me and ended with, “Seriously, you inspire me.” I had been feeling a little down the previous few days and this completely changed my day.  Granted, if this person is looking to me as a source of inspiration, she probably needs to start setting the bar a little higher but being told that something I have said or done matters to someone, shifted my entire mood.

I now resolve to do my best to make as many people as I can smile each day.  That may be only one person some days, hopefully many more on others. It sounds cheesy and stupid, but I am going to make a serious effort into trying to get at least one smile each day.  I have no desire to be some hyped-up optimist running around blowing fake sunshine at people while telling everyone how wonderful life is. I am just going to try to make sure I say, or do, a minimum of one little thing to make someone smile.

As I get older, I am becoming more and more aware of how powerful tiny moments are.  Our lives are filled with work-stress, relationship issues, fear, failures, politics, schedules, hatred, and general stress that I think we sometimes stumble through our days in a haze.  Some of my worst days have been changed by the simplest gestures or words that I bet were immediately forgotten by everyone but me.  A 3-5 second exchange can completely change the next 23 hours, 58 minutes, and 57 seconds…. or more.

I want to do that this year.  I want to be very intentional about making sure that I have made at least one person smile each day.  Ninety-nine percent of the smiles will be quickly forgotten.  Ninety-nine percent of the people will not need that smile. Someone will need it though. I know I have. Maybe I can be the person to change someone’s day. Accuracy by volume. Butterfly effect. All those cliches.  It will not take much time or energy and I really do not see a down side.

I think these are attainable. I think they are reasonable. I think they are good.

Happy 2017

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Friendship Deflation

There is little in my life that I value more than friendships. I do my best to treat my friends in a manner that lets them know how much I value them and try to make sure I put my friends first. If I am your friend, there is little that I will not do for you. I have no problem prioritizing you and will gladly inconvenience myself for you. I am not trying to brag, but I think people who know me would vouch for this.

It gets me in trouble sometimes. Life moves and friendships naturally fade and sometimes just run their course. I have a very hard time accepting this and often let it bother me too much. At it’s heart, I think the issue is that I place friendships at such a high value.

This is why I am so pained to see how the value of friendship has been so deflated in the past week. Fair warning. Some of you may want to stop reading here. There will be no editing. No re-phrasing or re-wording. No editing for structure. I’m typing, saving, and publishing whatever I write next.

It is killing me to see so many friendships ended over the election.  Personally, I have lost not a single friend.  My candidate is not in office. I am scared and disappointed. Most of my friends voted along my lines, so I am not in direct conflict with them.

However, I see the hate that is thrown all over my social media feeds and conversations. I hear the horrible generalizations that are made about people who voted differently. Regardless of whether or not they are true, they are terrible things to be throwing at people who you have had personal relationships with.  Friendships are ending. And a lot of it is coming from people with whom I agree. I agree with them politically. I am as dumbfounded as they are and understand most of the angry memes, cartoons, and rants but can not get behind destroying friendships.

What is worse than the pain I feel for my country is the pain I feel when I realize, “If I had filled in a different bubble, I would have lost friends.”  Years of friendship, good times, bad times, conversations, tears, sacrifice and comfort would have been lost based on a vote.  To me, it’s not worth it. My grieving after this election has not been about the result but for the realization that the value of many of my relationships is much lower than I realized. It kills me to see a friend destroying another friend and realizing, “All I would have had to do is vote differently and that would have been me.” That’s it. Done. All that work and effort into cultivation a relationship… gone.

When you fight fire with fire, everyone burns.

I do not want to talk about the election anymore because all I can think about is how many friendships it has destroyed.  In four years this will change, but right now I can not even imagine myself voting in the next election. Not because of political apathy, disrespect for my rights, or a feeling a helplessness but more so because it feels like that tiny little ink bubble is a poison pill to something that I value above almost everything. Friendship.

I have lost not a single friend because of this election but I realize that is largely because I happen to vote in a manner that did not upset my friends. That literally depresses me.  Please do not politicize this. Please do not use it to support a view you may have. Please do not interpret this a political apathy. Do not take this a plea to simply move on. I am not asking anyone to ignore what is happening  Interpret this as the ramblings of a sad man who is watching friendships end and realizing they could easily be his.

Interpret as a plea for everyone to stop being such dicks.  If you are spewing hate because you feel empowered by the results. Stop being such a dick. If you are running around insulting your friends and making horrible generalizations about them because of their votes. Stop being such a dick.

To my friends. I love you.  I have always known about your political opinions and I have chosen to love you because of, or in spite of, them. I have yet to look at a friend and say, “I am surprised you voted that way.” My time with you and my relationship with you is way more important than what you did last week.  I refuse to hate you or lose you. I place way too much of a value on friendship but am deeply saddened that so many feel differently.

I am sorry if I have offended anyone. I am sorry if I have thrown a log on someone’s fire of furthered their point. I apologize if this is rambling, incoherent, poorly written and filled with typos. I am not going even re-read what is above. I am sorry if I am flat out wrong.

Do what you need to tomorrow. Call politicians. Be active. Fill my Facebook feed with articles.  I probably agree with most of them.  However, make sure you are stopping to love your friends. Don’t let your fervor burn relationships that have been so carefully built.  Don’t deflate the value of friendship. Just love.  Please?

 

 

 

 

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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