Friday, August 22, 2014

Taking the Time We're Given

When you're married with a kid and a full-time job, spouses have to work extra hard to find time to  enjoy each other's company without something or someone (ahemm, the boy) intruding.

No earth-shattering news there, I know. However this axiom does provide reason and a rationale as to how Mrs. Blackwell and I found each other sharing the same change room at a local clothing store yesterday.

A phone call and a break in our schedules saw us both available to "do lunch" but since I'm a glutton, I'd already eaten lunch by 10:30 a.m. That said, I'd left the office bound for a walk in a nearby mall as it was raining outside. (We can revisit later the fact that, being the young, intrepid jet setter that I am, I go for walks in the mall.) 

En route, Mrs. Blackwell called and informed me that there was a sale on at one of her favorite stores, which also happens to sell guys' stuff. I dislike shopping at the best of times but, when there's a sale (jeans 45% off, can you imagine!) it makes it less of a labor. 

My gang. That's me in the very back. 
So we met at the store with the clock already ticking. I had a meeting to attend so haste was the operative word for me. With that in mind, Mrs. Blackwell and I entered the store and then promptly separated to the boys and girls sections respectively.

In short order, I zeroed in on the jeans section. I spent a solid five minutes before locating the style I wanted (super, super skinny with rhinestones and zippers on the rear pockets, thanks for asking) and then my size.

Funny, I never feel so portly as I do when looking for new clothes (yet another strike against shopping). 

Having found what I was looking for, it was off to the change room to determine if they'd fit. 

On my way, I encountered Mrs. Blackwell and what can only be described as an impossibly large pile of clothes in her grasp. How she'd managed to find all this in such a short period of time was baffling.

There were jeans, five pairs in all and there were shirts, though I'm not sure how many. What else might have been in her pile, I do not know. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of it. 

Amazing. To the precise degree that I dislike shopping, she loves it. She embraces every wretched element of it with a huge smile on her face. Vigor and verve!

To be clear, in the amount of time I took to grab one pair of jeans she'd found about 20 pieces to try on. As the kids say, "SMH." 

Like his mom, the boy gets extremely excited to shop.
On our way to the change rooms, a savvy clerk noticed us together and asked if we'd like to share a dressing room. Well why the hell not, right? 

So there we were, me with my jeans and her with that 30-lb mound of cloth. I tried on my jeans and, success! They fit. I'm done.

What follows is a situation just about every guy finds himself in every time he goes to the mall with his girlfriend or wife. Sitting, waiting and being asked for your opinion on a multitude of items. 

To her credit, Mrs. Blackwell went through each item she'd gathered. She made quick calculations and deemed these pieces worthy of her time and then, article by article, she tried each and every one on, taking time to evaluate the merits and demerits of each and asking my thoughts for good measure. 

She moved quickly and as she did we talked and laughed. We could have been in separate dressing rooms. For that matter, I could have been doing my best impression of a geriatric speedwalker, barreling through the mall, shooting looks at those slow young folks who don't know which lane is the speedwalking lane. 

But, for a few minutes, we were together. And, life being what it is, I didn't see her again until this morning, as I was on my way out the door for work. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sports — An Irrational Love Affair

Monday night saw the family unit in the basement playing with little hockey sticks shooting a ball toward a little hockey net. 

After a couple of minutes I got thinking, I can't wait to see the boy playing professional hockey one day. 

You see, if I'd started skating at an earlier age, I'd have been an excellent hockey player. But, I didn't put on a pair of skates until I was 11 years old, sounds young but by that point, it's too late — no matter if you've got hands like Mario and vision like Wayne.

Pictured: my peers.
And, if I'd just had a bit more discipline, I'd have been a fantastic basketball player. I made it past first cut in JV ball but, I was young and I didn't want to wake up for the 7 a.m. practices my high school team demanded. But if I did, welp, I would have been really good. Not Michael Jordan good, maybe just Steve Nash good. 

Football? Forget about it. I could have played for a college team but, I was just never that interested. 

Yes sir, these the perfect explanations for why my career in athletics never got off the ground. 

But, thank God I've got a son (AKA a chance to live out my unrealized dreams through someone else).

The boy? He'll get it right. He'll achieve the athletic stardom that fate cruelly denied me — I'll see to it. 

In fact, I've already started. 

First, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, watching, thinking and talking about sports. This is a great place to start indoctrinating teaching the boy. 

He'll see me doing these things and he too will learn that, while sports might seem entirely inconsequential, he's wrong.

He'll notice how I gravitate toward a particular player because he's overcome incredible odds to achieve what he's achieved. Then, within  a matter of months, he'll see me go hoarse cheering against that player because he now wears a different colored jersey. 
This guy was the U.S. President the last time the Leafs
won — or went to — a Stanley Cup final.

He might think this is nonsensical but he'll come around. I'll see to it. 

He'll hear me talk of "Fantasy League" and like me — and 28 million other people — he'll ignore the word "fantasy" and treat it like a life or death proposition. He'll understand that, because daddy paid $25 to join a fantasy league, it justifies his spending 30 hours a week managing his lineup and scouring the "waiver wire." 

He'll look at the time I spend doing all of these things (time I could spend fixing the house, the car, or learning a new skill) and he'll know that sports must really, really matter. 

He'll watch as his dad talks with other grown ups about matters of great importance like the Packers "shoring up their secondary" and the Leafs fixing their "penalty kill" and he'll soon know. I'll see to it. 

Just like I did when I was a kid, he'll take part in the annual family tradition of ignoring the outside world twice a year when Carolina plays Duke. He'll see how, in the days leading up to these two games that while daddy says he's happy and "looking forward" to them, he looks tense.

And, just like I did, he'll watch his father live and die with each trip down the court, summoning every ounce of his will to suppress an eruption of swear words that would make angels question the existence of a god. 

He'll never see anything like this — at least until the Leafs make the playoffs. 
They got my money and my early 20's, the same things they took from
both my brothers, my father, two uncles and my grandfather.
In return we got an education and a psychosis.

And, if the Leafs do make the playoffs, he'll hear daddy talk about 1967, about Dion Phaneuf and about trades — lots and lots of trades. 

As he grows, he'll adopt a few of my teams. Maybe he'll cheer for a rival just to get under my skin, like his mother does. But, unlike his mother, he'll come around. 

Sure, he'll understand when people say things like "sports is a business just like any other" but he'll disregard this fact and he'll root for the corporation daddy roots for. 

He'll see me wearing T-shirts, hats, and jerseys bearing the logos of sports teams and he'll notice that daddy dresses him in clothes with some of the same logos. 

Later this winter, when daddy ignores the fact that he's just two-and-a-half years old and puts him on skates at the local outdoor rink, he'll ignore the frigid, Wisconsin air, the discomfort, the bumps and the bruises. 

Like daddy, he'll suspend his adherence to logic. He'll forget his Duplo blocks, his books, the Little Einsteins, and see that sports are worth it. 

I'll see to it. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Simple Life

Mrs. Blackwell's brother visited us this weekend before embarking on a new beginning in his life. 

Later this month, he'll be leaving the rural confines of Southern Illinois for the sunny splendor of San Diego. He has a couple of friends there and an apartment lined up, but that's the entirety of his support system there.  


My parting gift to my brother in law — publication of the
funniest picture of him  I could find. You're welcome pal!
Also pictured: Mrs. Blackwell, radiant as always. 
And unless you're his parents (my in-laws) or his sister (my wife) you've got to be ecstatic to see him head into the unknown, ready to tackle whatever gets thrown at him. (Armed with three degrees, one in finance and two in math, including a Master's, I'm sure he'll be just fine.)

While the idea of moving to San Diego is fantastic in so many ways, if you're Mrs. Blackwell's folks it's got to be tough to see your youngest kid move as far west as possible without leaving the continental U.S.

In a very tangible way, this is a reminder of what my folks have been going through with me for the better part of a decade now. They live in North Carolina while I'm tucked up here in Wisconsin, after stops in the Caribbean and central and southern Illinois. 

This arrangement, me living thousands of miles away from my mom, my dad, my brothers, my beautiful nieces and nephew, is something I've come to accept as part of life. Missing my family is just a little pain I carry with me every day. 

Boo hoo, right? I've got plenty for which to be thankful. Life is, for the most part, good and nothing is perfect; I also carry that knowledge with me everyday too. 

But now, watching Mrs. Blackwell's brother move, I observe from a middle ground, seeing this through the eyes of both a son and a parent. 

It's a moment Mrs. Blackwell and I are a few years away from but, when the time comes and Master Blackwell wants to move on, I'm sure I'll be a mess. 

Right now he is this blond-headed little stretch of cuteness who, when I entered his room this morning greeted me by rolling over on his back, smiling and saying "Coconuts!" (I used coconut butter as a moisturizer on him before bed last night. I got him giggling by saying "COCO! Nuts!" in a voice I thought sounded like a high-pitched caveman. Naturally, he repeated after me.)

Enough digressing. 

I know these times will soon be gone. "COCO! Nuts!" will soon give way to "SOCC-ER Practice!" and "DRIVERS! Ed!" 

I have a lot to learn about being a dad and life in general but my life as a kid taught me this much — time moves faster and faster and faster. I'm going to blink my eyes, be 50+ years old and it'll be my kid packing up his car, destined for some point far away. 

Pictured: Simple.
I'll be happy that he's pursuing his life unbound. I'll be proud that he's confident enough in himself to leave his safety net behind and go for it.

And, I'll be sad. Probably how my folks were and how Mrs. Blackwell's folks are to see their  son move.

One byproduct of being a solid parent, I hope, is to raise kids who are good company, who you enjoy talking with, who are just fun to be around — and who enjoy being with you. 

My parents feel that way about my two brothers and me, and Mrs. Blackwell's folks feel that way about both their kids. In a way, it's proof that you've done something right as a parent, a validation of sorts that you're saying goodbye (for a while anyways) to your kid and your friend. 

So we've got the good and the bad, pride and sadness, lots of hope and some fear of the unknown and it's happening all at once. 

Another fact I'm learning, as a parent — things are rarely simple.