birthday

The Happiest Unhappy Birthday Ever

This year, for the first time in my life, I was not looking forward to my birthday.

I’m not afraid of aging. Even as I near 40 and the increasing possibility I’ve got more years behind me than ahead, I don’t mind getting older at all. I want to get older. Getting older means gaining experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Who doesn’t want that? Sure, there are plenty of negatives that come with aging–weight gain, creaky bones, poor eyesight, getting weirdly riled up over kids on my lawn, etc.–but for the most part I still get excited by the marking of time and all the stuff people want to give me because of something my mom did years ago.

Until this year. This year, I’m 38-years-old and unemployed.

I didn’t think I’d be celebrating Christmas–much less my birthday–unemployed. So, I went into my birthday slightly depressed. I begged Erin to spend no money on me and just let the day slide by like any other. I knew better than to ask that because my wife is awesome and giving, but I did it anyway. She rolled her bright, beautiful eyes. She’s a champion eye roller.

Mint. Chocolate. Chip. These are literally all the flavors and textures you need in good food. And maybe bacon.

Mint. Chocolate. Chip. These are literally all the flavors and textures you need in good food. And maybe bacon.

Amazon has been trying to send us a card with their logo on it and give us free money for years, so Erin finally let them do it and got me some great, expensive board games for basically nothing. (If you ever work up the courage to venture beyond Monopoly and Candy Land, you could do a lot worse than to pick up Castles of Mad King Ludwig and BANG!–both truly excellent, easy-to-understand, difficult-to-master games.) She also made a Mint Chocolate Chip Cake from scratch. I would tell you how good it is but then you might want some and there’s no way in Satan’s address I’m sharing.

At Erin’s suggestion and in acknowledgment of the distinct lack of joy in my countenance of late, I took Violet to jump at a local trampoline arena after preschool let out. Technically, I think it’s against the law to frown there.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 8.36.32 PMThe day kept getting better. After the trampolines, Erin and I split a Chipotle burrito for lunch and watched Boyhood (edited for content via my handy Clearplay player). After the kids got out of school she got me a balloon and Rolling Stone magazine, and I played video games with Elora. My Mother-in-Law, Lynn, took us to House of JuJu, my favorite burger place. Best burgers in the world as far as I’m concerned. I’m not kidding. If you ever find yourself in the Fresno/Clovis area, try the Dragon Lady. Thank me later.

After we got home from JuJu’s, several men dressed in ski masks and hoods jumped out from the kitchen and the closest, put a bag over my head, and bodily carried me out of the house. I was kidnapped.

The criminals were my friends: Cody, Mike, Kevin, and Logan. We call ourselves “The Forum,” not because it’s not stupid, but because it’s shorter than “Guys Who Get Together Every Couple Weeks to Play Board Games Late at Night After Our Wives Go to Bed.” Yes, we are all married. We’ve all even got kids. We are a massage therapist, a bank manager, a nurse, an insurance claims adjuster, and an ex-art director. Pretty fantastic group.

Clockwise from left: Me, Cody, Logan, Kevin, Mike

Clockwise from left: Me, Cody, Logan, Kevin, Mike

Here’s how it went down:

Coming into my kitchen to see two masked men crouched low and hiding and then having all visual input cut off by the bag was honestly one of the creepiest, heart stopping things that’s ever happened to me. The big guy carrying me is Cody. It’s muffled, but if you listen closely you can hear me say “I’m so scared.” I quickly realized it was my friends under the masks, but I was afraid of being dropped. So, of course, Cody dropped me–though you can’t tell in the video because of how dark it was.

(Erin makes a little cameo in the beginning of the video, and that’s Cami–still recovering from her Whooping Cough–throwing a little fit as we exit.)

The Forum took me to No Surrender, a local Laser Tag facility that does it right–full range of weapons (Assault, Shotgun, P-90, Sniper Rifle, etc.) and a gameplay system that encourages and rewards stealth. We played three games in which we sucked so very hard against all the tournament players who showed up for half-price Tuesday. Can’t complain though. We sweat a lot, enjoyed each other’s company, grabbed some late night fast food, and ate my delicious cake. It was everything I could have wanted from my 38th Birthday and it never mattered once that I don’t have a job.

I’ve never defined my self worth by my job. I’ve never done it. I’ve always said a job was a job and it was important to me to do a good job, but my real happiness and fulfillment comes from my friends, my family, and my faith. I’ve always said that, but, until now, I’ve had the luxury of being employed while saying such things.

So, what happened? Of course that got put to the test. Of course it did.

At my last birthday, I did have a job. I didn’t want to turn 38 this year I think, in part, because it stings to be this old and this unemployed. The other half of that sting is that, until now, I’ve done a poor job of adequately considering what I’ve gained in the past year. I’ve only looked at the loss.

I haven’t put things in the proper perspective.

A year ago, the Forum didn’t really exist. The last time I had a close group of guy friends I had to ask permission from my mom to cross the street. Now, these men who are my friends are important to me and I’m important to them and we are a group. I didn’t think I’d ever get that again in my lifetime. But I have it now, this year, at this time. And, amazingly, we are adults.

A year ago, I was gone at work almost every day and saw my kids for 2-3 hours in the evening. I wasn’t a neglectful, 1980’s movie dad who had to be taught that his big brick cell phone and Madison Avenue job weren’t the most important things in life, but I didn’t see my kids nearly as much as I have since the big job loss this past August. I’m closer to my kids now–especially to Violet–than I otherwise would be. I’d say you can’t put a price on that, but I’ve actually paid dearly for it.

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A year ago, things were as good as they’ve ever been and yet I felt slightly out of touch with my faith. I had experienced things so viscerally in times past and I was wondering why I didn’t feel such things so strongly anymore. Now, as always happens in times of trial, I’ve had to rely on the Lord more and in doing so I’ve felt Him powerfully.

Are all of these gains a result of being unemployed? No. Some, but not all. Either way, that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve been blessed, immeasurably–and recently. Not with a job, but with so many other things that matter a great deal more.

When you think about it that way, focusing too much on the job loss and getting down because of it isn’t just kind of silly, it’s more than a bit ungrateful. It’s like getting a piece of cake and your favorite ice cream and then complaining about the color of the plate. Sure, I like blue, but I shouldn’t cry about getting avocado green when I’ve still got this amazing cake and ice cream.

My life is delicious cake and ice cream on an ugly plate right now.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

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Day 41 – Why I Refused to Give My Daughter a Cell Phone, and Then Did Anyway

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Wednesday – October 8, 2014

Elora

Elora

I promised Elora she would get a cell phone when I did. Which, my shiny crystal ball reveals to me, is never. Why? Because I don’t believe in cell phones. Oh, I know they exist, but only to tempt and torment man. Somehow we went from being to able to talk–talk!–to people the next house or city or state over from the comforts of our home, to being able to talk to them from giant stretch limos in 80’s movies, to just sending written messages with bad spelling, to putting pictures of our private parts in each other’s back pockets. I shudder at the thought of what comes next. Alexander Graham Bell would weep.

I don’t want any part of that, and I CERTAINLY don’t want my kid dealing with it. It used to be the devil would possess our bodies to make us to do horrible things, but that’s so old school. Now, he just puts a cell phone in our hands and all of the sudden we transform into rude, inconsiderate, loud, obnoxious people.

Heaven forbid the only one who can hear you yakkin’ it up with your mom in the line at the grocery store is you.

No, no. Of COURSE you have to take that call that text right now. We were just having a live conversation is all. If it was important I’d be texting you.

Hey guy, why don’t you take that selfie right here in the movie theater? I mean, it’s not like you’re making any sounds. And, please, I can just pretend the tiny, bright, glowing screen in front of me is part of the 3D effect. Wow! Everybody wins!

I’ve made it clear to Elora over and over again that the cell phone is just not happening, but still she has continued to protest. Her pleas consistently fail to move me. I mean, at this point, I take a perverse joy in refusing her. And she knows it.

Which is why a cell phone was the perfect gift for her 12th birthday today.

Erin put the phone in a box-within-a-box-within-a-box. When Elora got down to the last box, the phone started ringing. She opened it, pulled the phone out, and then immediately put it back in. There was no scream, no excitement, just pure disbelief.

Here, I’ll show you:

So, two questions:

1. Why did I allow this? Besides all the safety advantages, Erin finally convinced me that it would be a good idea for Elora to learn about cell phones now and how to properly use them while we still have some influence and control over Elora’s life. So, there are rules like turning the phone in to us at night and “Be where you are.” Stuff like that. The fact is, she will get a cell phone eventually because the only people who don’t are weirdos like me. We can teach her proper use.

2. How do unemployed parents afford to give their child a cell phone for her birthday? Well, first of all, just because we’re unemployed doesn’t mean we’re broke. Not yet. Second of all, that’s what’s great about a grandparent with a family plan. We paid just about nothing.

* * *

We cleaned the house today instead of doing just about anything else. Was fun to take short breaks to watch the strong reactions to my blog “Day 32 – Why It’s Important to Write Like No One Cares” roll in. I learned that wa what was a very clear headline in my head meant something entirely different in the minds of others, as demonstrated by this rebuttal blog (rebuttal blog! milestone!). So, yeah, had some disagreement. The good kind.

I still maintain that if you put your writing out there to be consumed by the public then no matter what you say you’re not just writing for yourself. Acknowledging that fact can make you a better writer. Write like no one cares, then change their minds.

* * *

Scheduled a phone interview with a company in Utah. This would be completely different from the company there I was looking at before. It’s a reassuring thing just to have an interview. When you send out so many resumes and you don’t hear back for a while, you start to think maybe what you have to offer just isn’t desired. That you’re not employable. That’s a deeply stupid attitude, as my 17 constant years of employment will attest, but that’s the emotional part of this game.

I acknowledge that emotion, I embrace it, I move forward.

The 3rd Annual Birthday Ball Party (Take Two)

UPDATE: Well, by going with a slightly more obscure song I was able to bypass the YouTube censors and finally get this video viewable by all. The only downside is that a lot of care went into cutting the video to sync up with the original, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall by Coldplay. If you’d like to see the video as it was originally intended (and you have the song), hit play on Every Teardrop about a half second after the video starts. Enjoy! Original post as follows…

For three years in a row now my daughter Cami’s birthday party has lasted exactly one half hour. This isn’t a cruelty, this is the exact perfect length for the type of party she enjoys so much. You see, at Cami’s party, we bounce balls. And that’s it.

I got the idea just before Cami’s fifth birthday as I tried to think of something what she would enjoy most. After all, it’s not like she can tell me. Cami, who has special needs, is non verbal. She communicates with a few signs, but mostly with smiles, laughs and cries. She never smiles bigger or laughs more than when she sees a ball bouncing.

“So,” I thought. “Why not get as many balls bouncing at the same time as possible?”

Just look at Cami’s face. That’s why we do it. Trust me, a half hour is about all you can take of that much pure, concentrated fun.

The first year we did this, about 20 people showed up. The next year, 30. This year, past attendees had been talking the party up so much that we had 80+ people. Amazing.

Big thanks to those of you reading this who attended this year! It was our best yet.

Do you have any unusual birthday traditions? Love to hear ’em.

The Goal Age

Today, I turned 35-years-old. I’m so pleased.

I’ve always wanted to be 35. Always. The earliest I can remember having the thought was when I was thirteen. Become a teenager was a real tragedy for me. I didn’t want to be belligerent, smelly, rebellious, angry, foolish, awkward, etc. That’s what teenagers are like, I reasoned. I was already insecure, afraid and in constant amazement of the complex machine that is adult civilized life. I didn’t want to inch closer to it and go through all of that coming-of-age/first love/college junk. I wanted to skip right to the good stuff. I wanted to be 35.

I think the movie BIG came out around this time.

At 35, I’d have a wife and, possibly, kids. I’d have that figured out and I wouldn’t have to wonder anymore if it was even possible for anyone of the opposite sex to fall in love with me. I’d be done–completely–with school. I’d know what a mortgage is and how to pay it. I’d have a job. Better, I’d know what my job was supposed to be.

I’d know more about God. Maybe I’d even know if he really exists and what he wants me to do in this life.

At thirteen, these were all impossibilities. Giant puzzles I had to put together by myself without the aid of a picture.

35 was the age at which I’d have everything figured out. The Goal Age. Today, I hit it. And all those things my thirteen-year-old self thought he might have accomplished by January 20th, 2012?

Done, every single one. And then some. Thirteen-year-old me would be so jealous.

I hope I never take for granted all that I have and all that I’ve learned. I’m glad I didn’t get to skip those in between years. I think appreciation comes from struggle and hard work. I’m grateful and glad to be 35 in a way thirteen-year-old me never could be.

Can’t wait for 36.

 

How to Make Things Valuable

A writerly pose. Notice the all-black attire, the awkward framing, the fingers brought to the temple, and the archaic writing tool. Yes, this man has deep, deep thoughts.

When I was younger I had this dream about accomplishing something amazing at a young age. Get hired by Marvel or DC Comics. Write a book. Serve in City Council. Invent a new Oreo. Whatever. I thought that doing something great at a young age would make me and that thing more extraordinary.

Didn’t happen. The things I did as a young adult were pretty typical. I graduated college. Married. Had kids. Got a job and a house. All good things and great accomplishments for me personally, but nothing the world was gonna stand up and take notice of.

Fast forward to now and, on the eve of my 35th birthday (still a week away), I actually have done something pretty great. I’ve written a book that could find a wide audience and change my life and the life of my family forever. That’s terribly exciting, but it’s nothing people younger than me haven’t already done hundreds of times over. Granted, my story is my own and unique and amazing, but I’ve read and heard about kids and young adults still in college getting these amazing book deals. Real prodigies. People who have accomplished so much and are so talented  and so young. That was supposed to me.

I’m so, so glad it wasn’t.

There is value in the wait. With hard, laborious, extended periods of work and pounds of sweat comes a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I can appreciate what I have now because of where I’ve been and what it took to get here. My book has been through the wringer–multiple readers and people giving their opinion on what I’ve done and what does and does work for them. The “does not” is the hard part. Pouring your heart and talents into something for years and then being told it’s not quite right is tough and it shapes you. Thank goodness.

Now, I have a literary agent. I’ve written a book. Do you know how exciting that is? I do, now. If this had happened to younger me (and no friggin’ way he had the talent or the skills), he wouldn’t have appreciated it. There would have a been a sense of inevitability about it. A sense of entitlement that would have made the accomplishment less thrilling and less deserved. I’m glad that punk didn’t get this then. What I have now is more valuable because that guy was disappointed and had to wait and reconfigure who he thought he was and work harder than he ever thought he could.

I realize I haven’t really “done it” yet. In fact, I’m at the biggest crossroads of this whole process right now. The book is about to go out to publishers and then we’ll really see what the future holds. But everything that’s happened so far? Pretty big deal. More than most ever get.

I’m so glad I can see that fully.