The Cumulative Generation of Everybody Gets a Trophy Town

In a clear attempt at mimicking the life and times of Ernest Hemingway I was perusing Facebook the other day.  If something about my opening sentence doesn’t seem right, it’s probably because I was being openly and unapologetically sarcastic regarding the seemingly immature way I inspire myself to write.   Before I get completely lost in a rant that makes me sound even more like a thirteen year old boy doing everything in his power to prove his counter culture status, I’ll remove my pre-teen punk rock disposition and get back to my point.

Amidst all of the selfies and status updates concerning new found workout routines, I stumbled across a few posts embodying a certain affliction perched on the cusp of overtaking the world’s common sense, what’s left of it anyway.    For example:  “OMG, love of my life had the entire day off of work and when I got home the whole house was clean! Best Boyfriend ever.  Feelin blessed!”   Um…Those three dots, sometimes known as a caesura, sometimes known as muted pauses, always known as a punctuation Microsoft Office doesn’t comprehend, is the visual embodiment of me saying “Holy Christ,  what is going here!.”  I know, I know.   All of this sounds amazingly cynical, and while I try hard not to let myself venture to this place often, things like this are akin to a one way trip to jaded island.  But I just have to wonder, do we truly expect this little of one another?

Before I reach the point of no return I want to assure you what I am writing about here isn’t people’s vapid obsession with meaningless things like Facebook.  Nor is it a contemptuous attempt at destroying the joyful feelings people have in the early and in some cases lasting stages of love.  Writing about either of these things would be nothing more than a self-indictment.   No, what I am driving at here is a much different and altogether more comprehensive animal.   You see, the aforementioned status, is an alarming example of the thinking demonstrated by a growing number of people whose collective population inhabits a section of our world I like to call the Cumulative Generation of Everyone Gets a Trophy Town.

Now, if you’re keeping score at home I should explain something.  Everyone Gets a Trophy Town isn’t an actual piece of land you will find on the map.  Although if it did exist in the literal sense I believe you’d find it somewhere between West Quoddy Head Maine and Cape Wrangell Alaska.   But as I said, this town isn’t a tangible thing you’re able to touch with your hands.  Instead it is a proliferation of outward pride instilled in us for completing the most menial of tasks.  In other words, if you act like you just summated Mount Everest upon sweeping the floor of your kitchen, you’re probably a resident.

In a moment I’d like to get back to my initial example of someone professing their adoration for a boyfriend who cleaned their mutual residence via a social networking site as prime evidence towards the existence of this ignorant way of thinking.  But for now, I’d like to exhibit other residents of this field of thought.

“I take care of my kids!”

When I hear people say this I just shake my head and think of the courtroom scene in the movie Big Daddy where the kid yells “but I wipe my own ass.”  While it was good for sentimental value, that kid was five years old.  Here I’ll draw you the parallel.  Five year olds should wipe their own asses and parents should take care of their kids!  And even then the lines have been blurred haven’t they?  Maybe I am in the minority here, but my understanding of taking care of the kids you decided to have isn’t buying them a few diapers, feeding them once and awhile, and spending time with them for a few hours on Saturday afternoon before it’s time to hand them over to Grandma and ensure your ability to “still have a life” in spite of the fact you’re a parent.

Guess what?  You introduced a child into this world.  Your life now consists of being with them as much as humanly possible.  In other words, there is no magical line that exists that denotes where you start and your children end.  I don’t care if you were a great artist, an amazing basketball player, or if you were just the coolest person at the local watering hole before this.  The second junior made their appearance into the world; you stopped being any of those things and started your life as a Mommy or Daddy.

In the long run your understanding of this fact may free the world of a potential disaster of a human being.   Notice the operative word “may,” this is because even if you’re a stellar parent a chance exists your children may still end up as radical jihadists.  It’s the risk you take by having children.  If you’re waiting for your invitation to accept your Nobel Peace Prize, stop.  You don’t deserve it.  In this instance a pat on the back is too much.  Why, because you’re a parent.  Not only was it your decision to have children. But, being a good parent is something you should be doing.  Note the word should here.  You don’t get awards for things you should be doing.

Another example of this kind of behavior you’ll find on almost any social media site is something I like to call the “food-selfie.”  I’ve dubbed it this because even though it’s a picture of food, in all actuality it’s a picture of you.  The reality of these status updates is this; you want to show the world how great you’re.   You’re seeking adulation for what is in truth a menial task.  You’re an adult and you cooked food to feed yourself.  You’re supposed to feed yourself!  It’s one of the essential parts of living.  What’s next, and I am only half joking as I write this, selfies of people breathing?

Aside from a few extremely talented people cooking is not a skill.  It is more or less, a conquering of will over apathy.  Do I want to put in the effort to make a nice meal or not?  That is the reality of cooking as an adult.  Cooking a meal no more makes you Wolfgang Puck than hitting a home-run in your unisex Softball league makes you Babe Ruth.  Don’t believe me, call your shot at the plate one of these days and see how many laughs you engender from the meager crowd of your peers.   Still, I will freely admit food is a beautiful thing, both gustatorily and visually.   This fact creates a variable in this instance.  If you can honestly attest to the fact your lone intention in posting a status of this nature was to share beauty with the world, then you’re not guilty of the “food-selfie” after all.  Let me be the first to thank you for your contributions to this world of beauty but I must admit part of me thinks you’re lying.

Don’t feel bad though, lying is in our nature.  You were born under a bad star and your inevitable fall into the depths of deception was a birthright, which brings me back to the beginning.   More than parenting, more than cooking, more than any other emotion or task we experience in our lifetime, love is not something we should be congratulated for.  In fact, I believe adulation given to someone for the simple fact of loving another human being is actually detrimental to a relationship.  Feelings of adoration and adulation are incredibly addicting and while compliments like the example I gave earlier are common at the beginning of a relationship they tend to slow as the relationship progresses and responsibilities increase (e.g., parenting).   Sadly, the same cannot be said for the overwhelming need for adulation a person develops in their partner by announcing to the world their romantic prowess over the simple act of cleaning a house.  Make no mistake about it, by expecting so little of your partner you’re setting yourself up for a very imminent and very public heartache.  Love should in no way be considered a small emotion.  While the little things should be appreciated, you live in a world where partners have donated organs to one another because their love is worthy of an ultimate sacrifice.  Ask yourself; is your love unworthy of the same sort of commitment?

The most baffling piece of this rancid pie I so adoringly call The Cumulative Generation of Everyone Gets a Trophy Town, is how surprised people are by its existence.  We are after all, the generation of scholarly awards for perfect attendance.  Think about that for a moment, really let it sink in.  We reward our children just for showing up and then wonder where their heightened sense of entitlement comes from.  Are pants even required for this award?

We’ve gone from being the culture born with silver spoons in our mouths to the culture born with silver spoons in our mouths who upon being brought into this world immediately asks where our iPads are.  Despite all of that, even in the face of such stupefying incredulousness, I am not convinced we are the generation of impending doom.  I say this because cynicism is not holding people accountable for their ignorance.  Actually I believe it’s quite the contrary.  True cynicism is the belief that hope doesn’t exist for people to change.  So next time you find yourself in the position to expect more, do it.  There is still time.  Just imagine the adulation you will receive.

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The Quiet Epiphanies of Parenting

There are slender instances that occur to you as a parent that serve as the quietest of all epiphanies.  I say quiet, because for the most part they are the kinds of experiences that you wouldn’t dare share with others.  While we all have them, at least I assume I am not alone here, we suffer in silence afraid that any admission of being anything less than a super parent would shatter the image we try so hard to portray in the public eye, especially those of us who live in small towns.

Despite our futile attempts to fool the world, we all have these moments.  I know this because we are human and by our very nature we are fallible.   Prone to fits of frustration, comical delusions of grandeur, and even the occasional third glass of wine that acts as a time machine to our early twenties before the desperate fog of responsibility rolled over our modest suburban homes.  Still holding tight to that ugly lie that leads us all to believe that parenthood comes with an elixir for instant maturity?  OK, fair enough.  But humor me here.  Ask yourself this one question.  Does this sentence sound familiar? “But they are all going out for more drinks and we hardly ever get out of the house!”  Yeah, I thought so.  Don’t worry, it only means you’re human.  Anyways, your more practical, less mature side gave in two hundred words ago.

Now that we’ve worn away the shiny veneer of omnipotence from our parenting costumes, I’d like to share one of the more perplexing epiphanies I’ve had during my eight years as a father.  This past Spring my two children who are able to walk upright started to take notice of the basketball hoop in our driveway.   This illumination wasn’t overly surprising when it came to my son; after all he had been asking about it since Christmas.  But when my eight year old daughter, who is more of a dancing queen than jump shot princess, asked to play as well a faint feeling of incredulous joy careened through my mind.

When the next nice day arrived my upright walkers and I sauntered out to the driveway for what I assumed would be a short round of hoops.    Despite my son’s enthusiasm, he is barely over two years old. Truthfully anything more than him chewing on the basketball would have been impressive to me.  As for my daughter, I’d be lucky if her first inclination wasn’t to ask me for a lift in the air to be closer to the rim.   Now that I have a chance to read my thoughts on paper, I realize that I seem harsh, but like I said I am human and therefore prone to fallibility.

As expected my son grabbed one of the two available basketballs and began to run around like a person made of honey being chased by bees and cartoon bears.    At first I thought he had somehow set himself on fire, but I soon realized that his frantic way of sprinting was god given and I could put the pail of water down.   With the brief moment of mania behind me I shifted my focus to my eight year old who had spared no time in getting down to work.   To my surprise she was doing well, in fact she was doing more than well.  She had hit three out of her first four shots!

“You’re even using the glass!” I said in amazement.

“What does that even mean daddy?” She asked

“Well you’re using the backboard sweetheart.”

“OK, but I don’t know what that is.” She said continuing to shoot.

Watching her succeed in such a manner set my parenting synapses flying.  A “good” parent would tell you they were just proud to be a part of that moment.  And while I was extremely proud, the truth of the matter is this; I did what every parent who isn’t a self-righteous liar did.  Like a cunning tactician, I schemed, I plotted, and I planned for my daughter’s career as a WNBA super-star.  Questions began to twist around in my head.

“Was she in the ninetieth or the ninety-fifth percentile for height during her last checkup?”

“Would she be able to dunk like that girl from Baylor?”

“Would I be willing to wear a WNBA hat around?  C’mon it’s not as bad as hockey right?”

Sadly, I was doing what I had done repeatedly over the last eight years.   The second she demonstrated interest or ability in a specific area, I began romanticizing about her future acumen.  I like to assume that we all do this, although I suspect it’s a trait found predominantly in fathers.    I have no proof to that fact except to say that I am a male and I have been guilty of this on more occasions than my female counterpart.

There is an unspoken truth about being a parent, one that even when pressed to admit many of us wouldn’t.  Despite our war torn souls and aged faces at heart we are still children; still holding tight to the thought that the future holds something more magical than the average nine to five we ended up with.  Admit it guys, during that flag football game with your buddies you’re still pretending to be Barry Sanders, looking for that scout who thinks you have what it takes regardless of how slow your knees have become.  It’s the same reason ladies of all ages rediscover that childish glow every time a Disney Princess graces the screen in our living rooms.     It’s juvenile, it’s embarrassing, it’s awful to admit but despite all of those things, I think it makes us better parents.  Just don’t tell your kids!

Last week my daughter began organized basketball for the first time in her life.  The night before her first practice she and I spent time together shopping for the perfect pair of basketball sneakers.  To her it was a rather innocuous night out with her father, but to me it was so much more.  She wasn’t a WNBA super-star, not yet anyways, but I was so honored to be with her.  Privileged to be the man to buy her the first pair of sneakers she would play organized basketball in, just like my dad had done for me some twenty two years ago.   Back then I would have given anything to be Michael Jordan.  But on nights like that one, no matter how average I feel, I know there is nothing better than getting to be a dad.

My upright walkers and I ventured into Fred Large gymnasium the next morning moderately prepared for what the day had to offer us.  Never having played team basketball before my daughter was fraught with uncertainty.  I gave her a quick hug assuring her that everything was going to be OK.

“You even know how to use the glass” I said flashing a knowing smile.

“OK daddy.” She said as if she were trying to make me feel better.

My son, busy doing the skeleton dance from Hotel Transylvania looked as worried as a Rastafarian Medicine Man listening to a Bob Marley album.   I just smiled, silently assured that I had a ringer on my side.

“Those rims are only seven feet high.  I wonder if she is going to dunk on someone today or wait until next practice?”  I thought to myself as they began to warm up.

And then it happened.

“Oh shit.” I mouthed nearly letting the words escape my mouth.

They all could shoot and they were even using the glass!

The quiet epiphanies of parenthood, I guess we all have them.  Just don’t tell your kids!

Invaluable

Sometime last week I decided it was time to infiltrate my brittle brain with some new fodder.  My thinking centered around the idea that reading or listening to something new may provide a flicker of inspiration to my seemingly apathetic mind.   So I did what comes naturally to every consummate American consumer and made my way, somewhat defiantly, to a store I affectionately call “the center for self-centered morality and bigotry,” you may know it better as the red bull’s-eye, Circles McGee, that place where they have a shit ton of Burt’s Bees, but in many cultures its simply known as Target .  Now I know what you’re thinking, come on man you’re better than that!  But in my defense, at least it’s not Wal-Mart?  And let’s not fool ourselves here.   I am nowhere near better than that.  

While I’d like to get more into all the ethical atrocities generated by “that place where they have a shit ton of Burt’s Bees” (nowhere near the amount perpetuated by the Walton Gang,) I am going to save that for another day. 

Anyways, when I was through stalking my prey I took gentle inventory of my kill as it slid sadly down its escalator of doom. 

One Indie Rock and Roll Album- The National “Trouble Will Find Me”

One Book Bought Because I liked the Cover and It Was 20 Percent off- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

My items slowly made their way to a somewhat energetic twenty something female Target worker, (From now on when you read the word Target insert Kristen Wiig’s voice from SNL.  It will make the rest of this bearable.)  Who, for some reason, was chirping at my wife and I like a diabetic bird on a Hershey’s bender.  I estimated that the young lady was stricken with a form of Tourette’s, either that or she was so impressed by the hipster cool of my media choices that she was indeed becoming a Rockin’ Robin.  Regardless, I didn’t want to make the poor thing feel awkward so I looked at my wife and did the only logical thing I could think of, reached deep into my bag of tricks and pulled out my Toucan Sam.  For those of you who now think I exposed myself at a (insert Kristen Wiig Voice) Target, Toucan Sam is, in all actuality a cartoon bird who pushes sugar on children as the spokesmen for Fruit Loops!  That,  and you’re a sick human being. 

Suffice to say, I chirped back.  Why?  Well, why not?   It just seemed like the right thing to do. 

Long story short, we chirped back and forth a few more times, I paid twenty five dollars for two things that cost roughly six dollars to produce, you’re welcome Harper Collins and Brassland Records, and I exited (insert Kristien Wiig voice) Target with my wife thinking this won’t be quite as cute in five years.

Now we get to the point of my bizarre rant!  Although I am unable to attest for the entirety of Gretchen Rubin’s book, at least one word she used early in her writing sent me into a tailspin of thought.  Stuck in between all of her scholarly musings regarding the philosophy and analytics of happiness lay the word “invaluable.”  There it was, screaming at me, littering my head with its empty promise, attacking my senses with a litany of shenanigans.  I shut the book, its cover still gleaning with the slime of bigotry, and tried to let my thoughts rest.  But, I just couldn’t shake it!  Invaluable, a word of no substance!

I was furious with myself.  With Gretchen Rubin for making it all so clear to me.  With Harper Collins for not publishing the book I sent them!  Why had I not noticed this before?

I jumped into my bed with a certain energetic aura laying my head next to my wife’s pillow.

“Oh no, what is it?” she half smiled knowing she was in for a treat.

“Invaluable.” I smirked

“Invaluable?”

“Yes, Invaluable!”

“What about it?” She shouted wishing I’d let her sleep.

“It’s a lie, a farce, a word by its very nature that is filled to its brim with metaphoric bullshit.” I said chuckling like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.

 “How do you figure?” She asked placating me coolly

“Think about it, who has the right to determine something’s value?   You don’t, I don’t, Gretchen Rubin sure as hell doesn’t.”

“Who is Gretchen Rubin?”

“Doesn’t matter.  What I am trying to say is this.  A single person cannot determine something’s value.  For instance, think of something you think is invaluable?”

“Our children?” She answered looking at me unamused.

“No, absolutely not!  That’s the answer everyone gives and it’s wrong.  I am not saying I’d ever sell our kids, but someone in Mexico would gladly pay money for them.  There is a whole enterprise based around it!  Nothing is invaluable; the word is full of shit!”

My wife stared at me for a long while trying to reconcile the idea that things like this would no longer be cute in five years then left me with these words before rolling over and falling asleep.

“Honey, do you remember when you were talking about the football player from Washington who could literally jump out of the gym?”

“Yes, he could literally jump out of the gym!” I answered excitedly.

“Well sweetheart now there are two words you fail to understand the meaning of.  I love you honey goodnight.”