September 26, 2012

Why Celebrating "The Clinch" Wasn't Easy

There are important moments in your life that are unforgettable, like the time your child takes her first step or when your wife utters those three words that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside: “You were right.”1

It’s also an unforgettable moment when your favorite sports team—the one you’ve been rooting for since before you took your first step—has the opportunity to win something big. You want to savor that moment because, unless you are a fan of the New York Yankees (27 Championships) or Green Bay Packers (13 Championships) or Union Institute & University Men’s E-Level Softball Team (3-0 start to the fall session!), these moments are few and far between.

On Saturday evening, my Cincinnati Reds had the opportunity to clinch baseball’s National League Central title. The game was sold out, so I planned to watch it at home with my family, like many households who have three kids under the age of 6 do. I had been talking up “The Clinch” for a weeks, as the magic number kept shrinking. I set up a card table in the living room so the whole family could watch The Clinch as we ate dinner. We never eat dinner in the living room like this, so it was a unique opportunity for my kids to drop food and spill drinks on the carpet. They took full advantage.

As the game drew to a close and the team was on the verge of winning, I became more glued to Stephen, my HDTV, than ever before. I had been imagining this moment for weeks: the final out is made, I cheer, my wife cheers, my daughters cheer, we all high-five and rock-bump and dance in celebration. We toast our drinks and promise to name all future pets “Mr. Redleg.” Then we watch the postgame celebration all night until the kids fall asleep on the couch. And, after putting them to bed, my wife would give me the “you are one fine piece of eye candy” look and we’d continue the celebration privately.

That moment sounded beautiful and unforgettable, just as I wanted. Then I woke up.

For the final three innings of the game, my youngest daughter, who is currently cutting teeth, screamed. And I mean SCREAMED. And no matter how much we cradled her or how many teething biscuits we gave her or how in-depth I explained the importance of The Clinch to her, she could not be soothed. I offered up one final solution, though my wife was not interested in “seeing how loud the volume on the TV could go.”

My middle daughter, whose favorite part of watching baseball on television is the airing of restaurant commercials that feature Rosie Red, sat to my right, impatiently awaiting The Clinch.

“Will we see The Clinch tonight?”
“I think so!”
“I can’t wait to see The Clinch. Do you think The Clinch will wear a Reds hat like Rosie?”
“I bet The Clinch will be furry.”
“Sweetie, I don’t think …”
“I bet The Clinch’s favorite player is Joey Votto, just like me!”
“The Clinch isn’t a mascot, it’s …”
“It’s not like Rosie Red?
Eruption of tears and waterworks.

I would have continued this conversation if it weren’t for my eldest daughter, who glared at me from across the table.

“Dad, you said if I ate all of my dinner I could have TWO Twizzlers.”
“That’s right.”
“Well, I finished all of my dinner.”
“No you didn’t. There’s still half the meal on your plate.”
“I finished most of it.”
“Hun, can you wait just 30 seconds. The Reds are about to record the final out and …”
“But you SAID I could have two Twizzlers!”
“Please, can you just wait …”
“But you said …”
“If you say ‘Twizzlers’ one more time, you can’t have ANY Twizzlers!”
Eruption of tears and waterworks.
“Mommy … (sniffle sniffle, heaving breathing) … Dad … said … I … Can’t … Have … ANY … Twizzlerrrrrrs … ”

At that exact moment, my brain exploded. My plans to celebrate The Clinch, much like all plans made by parents, imploded right before my eyes. The final out wasn’t welcomed with cheers and high fives. It was overshadowed by screams and throbbing headaches. I watched as the players on the field built their victory mountain, piling on each other one by one. I looked back at my three upset children, each one with very reasonable concerns, but terrible timing. I couldn’t help but feel like this celebratory moment had lost its shine. I felt cheated.

Then it happened.

“Hey, the Reds clinched! Woohoo!” said my wife, and she extended her arm and waved to me in a high-five fashion.2 I lifted my hand. We smacked them together. My wife was genuinely excited for The Clinch, but I think she also could tell that, after the drubbing I was taking, I needed a lift. And that’s what amazing wives do: They high five you when you need it most.

The Clinch will forever be unforgettable to me—not for the teething screams or the Twizzler complaints or the crushing realization that The Clinch isn’t huggable—but for how my wife saved the day with one simple high five. It’s a testament to how important she is to me and to our family. She is amazing.

I am one lucky piece of eye candy. (Go Reds!)

1 If this happens more than once, write a letter to Guinness. You may be the world record holder.
2 This is noteworthy because my wife never high fives, not even on the rare occasion that they accidentally allow her to double up on Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons. 

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September 7, 2012

The (First) First Day of School

The first day of school is a time of change, of new beginnings, of new morning routines that cause family members to rush out the door forgetting something quasi-important, like a bookbag or pants. This causes both you and your wife to place blame:

Wife: “I would have helped our child remember her bookbag if you would have helped make her breakfast or pack her lunch!”

You: “I would have remembered my pants if my legs weren’t so darn sexy!”

And so on.

As you get in the car and start to drive, you finally pause for a moment and take in the fact that it’s your child’s first day of school. And for the lucky few of us who have young children, it’s our child’s first first day of school. It’s the first time you get to hold her hand as you walk to the classroom. It’s the first time that bookbag--which is three times the size of her body--bounces up and down as she excitedly leaves you behind at the door. It’s the first time you let her go. It’s also the first time in your life that you ever shed a tear, because as men we’ve never, ever cried before in our lives. (Unless you are a Cubs fan, then you probably cry all the time.)

This wasn’t the first time I’d been through a first first day of school with a child, but it was the first time I’d been through a first first day of school with my middle daughter, Anna (though she did look adorable when she tried on her sister's bookbag two years ago). Like most three year olds on the morning of, she glowed with a healthy mix of excitement, joy and nervousness. She slid on her outfit--the one she had hand-picked--ate her breakfast and was ready to go faster than any woman has ever gotten ready to go in the history of time. (I kid. Kind of.) Her enthusiasm was admirable and something I shared. I had dreamed about her learning new songs, reading new books, spelling words and understanding sign language, all things my eldest daughter had learned in her time there. I asked Anna what she had dreamed about. She replied “Snack time.”

We pulled up to the school and her eyes lit up, as if we were staring at a big building made of cotton candy. Her best friend, who was also about to experience her first first day of school, came running up to us and laid a big hug on my daughter. Their excitement was overwhelming.

“We’re going to school!” she yelled.
“I know!” my daughter yelled.
“Do you like my bookbag?” she yelled.
“Do you like my bookbag? my daughter yelled.
“Did anyone notice that I got my haircut?” I yelled.

Apparently the excitement is reserved strictly for those under 3. Which is a shame, because it really was an awesome haircut.

The teacher finally opened the door and waved us all in. My wife, who had shown up moments before, took Anna’s hand and said “Are you ready?” Anna shook her head yes. I shook my head no.

You see, sending your child off to school will happen a lot over your lifetime, but sending him or her off for the first time is a one-time thing. It’s a moment you’ll never get back, so you have to soak it up as much as you can. You need to remember how amazed she was to see her name on her preschool locker. You can’t forget how she wandered around the classroom in amazement, playing with all the toy phones and dry erase boards she could get her hands on. You need to smile when she excitedly points out that there’s a tiny toilet and sink in the bathroom that are “just her size.” These things matter. Take it all in, because this is the moment you begin to set her free. And once that process starts, there’s no stopping it--no matter how you try. (And trust me, I try all the time.)

I know I can’t keep Anna small forever (or any of my daughters, for that matter), but I can keep these memories and hold them close to my heart forever. And when she’s grown and heading off to college, I can recall her first day and tell her about it, walking her through each moment step by step. I’ll start to tear up. Maybe she will too. I’ll look her deep in her eyes and say, “Anna, I love you so much and am so proud of you.”

She will look deep in my eyes and say, “Dad, if you ever try to drop me off at school without wearing pants I will disown you.”

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