Step down to the Mat

“It will be several years before he can distinguish between dreams and reality.”

This statement is widely accepted as common for 15 month olds.

It really puts in perspective how traumatic a bad dream can be and why, at times, Cash can wake up screaming. Meghan and I are horrified to think what frightening image or scene played out in his little head.

I’ve never been an alarmist or someone who wants to micromanage every minute of my child’s life but this concept should remind parents what they should and shouldn’t expose their kids to.

Sometimes I turn on the morning news show-when Cash is in the living room with me-to get the weather and some “light” interest stories: an upcoming city festival, construction projects, sports stories. As it shifts to the background of my attention, the show cycles through the national news and images of terrorist attacks, explosions, and protests flash across the screen.  I lunge for the remote worried what Cash may have seen. Even though he doesn’t really pay attention to it, it worries me that these human pains reach his little mind without us being able to filter it or explain it to him.

We’ve now made it a point to have the TV on much less in our household. Instead of slowly waking up, coffee in hand while Cash plays with his toys in front of me, I now get off my lazy butt and turn off the TV (I can get weather reports from my phone), get down the floor and play with him.  Apparently, I grunt often when my tired body plops on the floor next to him because now whenever Cash bends down, he makes grunting and straining noises.  Sounds like daddy needs to get in better shape.

Anyway, this is a win-win, he gets more exposure to daddy and less to the atrocities of the outside world that our news is all-too-happy to berate us with.

Cash is going to have night terrors but if we can minimize them, we will. When we cap the night with a “sweet dreams” wish, we mean it.

One of our most important jobs as parents is as primary protectors. We aren’t going to consume the sensationalized negativity from our media and neither is Cash.

Sometimes taking a stand, means getting down on the floor.

 

 

A Renaissance

“You’re a renaissance man!”

A high school teacher said after he heard I was simultaneously acting in the school play, running on the Track team serving on the student council.

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The term renaissance man sounded positive but I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Definition: a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.

It was an ideal developed in the 15th century by Leon Battista Alberti who summed it up with “a man can do all things if he will.”  Alberti should know, he was an architect, painter, poet, scientist, mathematician and horseman. (I presume this means a good horserider?)

By the way, women can be a renaissance man…see “person” in definition.

Anyway, I certainly didn’t measure up to Alberti but my crossover into varied activities was rare.  Was I a jock or a drama nerd? A student government egghead? Others were-class clowns, band geeks, braniacs, druggies(stoners)?

I was proud to cause pause when it came to characterizing me.  I witnessed how flimsy and inaccurate labels can be…when none of them totally represented me. I was nothing special. I happened to like playing football, acting, debating issues, music, etc. Truth is, I enjoyed performing whether it was on stage or on the football field. It tripped the same triggers, in both, you planned, practiced then performed. And yes, I enjoyed applause, call me a narcissist.

The emphasis on focus, determination and teamwork was essential to it all. And I gained friends from different walks of life who often misunderstood one another.

I imagine, like Meghan and I, all parents wish for their kids to be well-rounded, unlimited, open to defining and re-defining who they are as they go through life.

It’s a great big world, shouldn’t we push the edges and explore it?  Isn’t it wasteful and depressing to not?

Labels aren’t evil but they can be. They can constrain, they can nullify, they can extinguish the human spirit.

This is why I’m so concerned the idea of the renaissance man is in danger in the midst of our emerging specialization society. It’s all-too-apparent in the raising of our youth the last decade or so.

With the prevalence of youth sports and club teams and private coaches, kids are being forced into choosing a particular sport or activity at younger and younger ages. Sports don’t change with the seasons like they did when I was a kid. Now, it’s one sport–all year round! Kids are not only discouraged but often flat out told they can’t participate in any other sport.

Kids are often spread too thin. More and more studies are showing that over-participation and hyper-specialization results in more and more serious overuse injuries in young athletes. On top of that, mentally and emotionally, kids are burning out by the time high school sports roll around.

The idea of the renaissance man is under attack. (Heck, even the 1994 film, Renaissance Man only has a 17% rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes!)

Broad-based training and knowledge isn’t fostered much. What ever happened to cross training? (Not to be confused with Crossfit.)

I took an informal poll this past spring of a group of my former Badgers teammates, many of whom were lamenting the specialization and the amount of time spent transporting their kids to sports practices and games. Of the 8 or so former Division 1 football players–a couple had played in the NFL, ALL of us played multiple sports all the way through high school.

So, when I hear parents say they HAVE to get their kids started early and specialized in one sport if they’re going to get a college scholarship or even play on their high school teams, I highly doubt that.

Why are parents, coaches, instructors, so heavily pre-determining the interests of our children?  Their under a misguided notion that it’s what best prepares their kids for future success. While well-intentioned, some adults are losing the forest for the trees in wanting the best for their kids.

Parents should expose their kids to a wide variety of interests-explore sports and music and art and science, etc…and see what takes.

Cash has already taken art and music classes and will be playing any and every sport once he’s old enough.

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We want to develop his skills and curiosity along the way. And meet different types of people. We want to prepare him for the world and help him find challenges, failures, success and enjoyment.

All the while learning more and more about who he is and ideally turns into a man who can “do all things he will.”

Isn’t that the success we wish for our kids?

 

 

 

Well, what do you expect?

Expectations are a tricky lot. Set them too low and you’re likely to underperform in life. Set them too high and you risk eternal dissatisfaction no matter how much you achieve. How do you get them right where you need them?  A question that I’ll need to answer in regards to my son…that every parent has to answer.

Got to thinking about this because of a volleyball. Not a famous ball like Wilson from the Tom Hanks’ movie, Castaway.

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Just a regular, slightly-worn, bar league volleyball.

One might argue a volleyball doesn’t discriminate and is beautiful in that way.  The volleyball doesn’t care if you’re male or female, black or white, gay or straight, Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner, because if you hit it correctly with good form and good power, it will go pretty much right where you want it to.

So, that same ‘one’ might argue that the volleyball didn’t intend any trouble to me personally in the two games I’ve played this year with our coed, company sand volleyball team, where the ball has been inconsistently scattering around the court after my hits. But it sure feels personal.

When I throw a baseball or football or shoot a basketball, the ball more often than not, goes pretty much right where I want it to.  I’m confident of my command of those sports balls, so it’s really disheartening to have this particular ball give me trouble. Well, enough of this…the ball stops here.

So, last night after our game, with a squeezed grip on the volleyball, in forceful but hushed tones, I began to ream it’s seams out.

Our conversation as follows…

ME: What was that all about?!

Ball: (No response)

ME: You’re making me look a fool out there! I’m an elite athlete who played college football, a top finisher in various 5K and 10K road races throughout the years and can still nail a turnaround jump shot from 15ft out.

Ball: Congrats, Bro. What’s that have to do with volleyball?

ME: What’s that have to do with…?! I’m an athlete, I pride myself on that…so this mediocre play in volleyball is hard for me to handle. Kinda messes with my identity if I can’t succeed in a sport. Get it?

Ball: (No response)

ME: I mean, I started to play volleyball after graduating from college and moving to Chicago. I played two years in the Co-ed beach Social League-and I’ll have you know my team won the championship my second year!

Ball: Congrats again, Bro. What year was that?

ME: Nineteen ninety ffffffff…oh, I see. You trying to say that was a long time ago?! I still got it, pal. Don’t get ballsy with me!

Ball: Chill out, Dude. Just asking what year.

ME: Just asking, my butt. You’re trying to insinuate that just because I haven’t played in twenty years that I shouldn’t expect to pick up where I left off?! To serve, bump, set and spike with powerful ease? Especially without practicing?!

Ball: You said it, Man.

ME: Well, that’s just…that’s just…really…really…some..what…reasonable. I guess.  I practiced a lot more at those other sports I mentioned. I’m just not meeting my own expectations. And that hurts-deeply. Like lose sleep, bothersome, can’t get that song you can’t get out of my head annoying, such as Baha Men’s song “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

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Ball: Who. Who. Who. Who. Who let the dogs ouuuuut…

ME: Enough!

Ball: Chillax dude. Just goofin!’

ME: I’m serious. I don’t have all day to practice your damn sport. I have a job. A wife. A son. A home to take care of. That’s a lot! I don’t need this guff from you.

Ball: K. Why do it?

ME: F-U

Ball: Whoa…

ME: I’m not finished -N. F.U.N. Fun.

Ball: Doesn’t sound like you’re having fun.

ME: (No response)

Ball: Dig this. You can’t have high expectations based on nothing but ego. Leggo your ego, Bro.  Practice if you want to improve. Or don’t. But just realize…expectations without effort is as pointless as…asking ‘Who Let The Dogs Out? 

ME: Expectation without effort is pointless…that’s a good…point.

Ball: Thanks…ooh, I got one more for ya to contemplate, then I gotta roll.  If you don’t put forth the important effort to properly place your expectations, you’ll end up lost in a tumultuous sea of life, restless as the tides, feeling confused and abandoned like a Castaway on a deserted island…that you’ve created in your mind, and finally resorting to talking to a volleyball in a desperate attempt to stay sane.

Mind blown, the volleyball dropped from my hands, bounced a couple times and rolled away. I didn’t expect that a ball could serve me such a profound realization. But, as I’ve discovered, expectations have been hard for me to get a handle on.

But I have to learn how to manage expectations now because I have a son to raise and he will expect me to set his not too high nor too low but right where he needs them.

Weed it and reap

Thank you to those of you who read my article last week and for the many kind, supportive comments and likes you sent my way. You are the wind beneath my keyboard.

I confess that while I’ve announced I’m going to start writing again, I don’t actually have a plan or an agenda of WHAT I’ll be writing. I’m just hoping I have enough pride to fuel me to write an article every week now that I’ve gone public with my intention.
As I sit here looking out my den window onto the garden I’ve recently prepared, I’ve decided to write about gardening.
If you had told me before this past year that I would be writing a story on gardening, I would have asked what you are smoking from your garden.
In my life until now, I paid about as much attention to gardening as I did to quilting–another hobby that produces something useful but didn’t intrigue me in the least to learn how it’s done.
Not to mention, I spent my previous twenty years in apartment and condo buildings, so gardening wasn’t even an option. And if you’re thinking, Chris you can still be into gardening with potted plants on a balcony and there are community gardens where people can join to plant…I will stop you right there and refer you to my previous sentence about my whole not intrigued by the gardening thing.
My limited experience with gardening occurred in my youth.
Speaking of, this pic of my dad and I is not in our garden and I have no idea where we were or why I’m armed with a leaf rake instead of a bow rake, but it’s the only pic I could find relating to my youth and gardening.
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Anyway, for a few years, my mom made some attempts at the tilled rectangle wrapped in floppy chicken wire that tried in vain to prevent the rodentia that frequented our yard courtesy of the adjacent corn field, pasture, and woods–a tough triangle for protective gardeners.
Other than a few ripe tomatoes to take juicy bites from, the garden’s main yield was lonely, leafy green remnants, fractured stalks and frustration.
Eventually, the garden was abandoned to regular grass turf and a horseshoe pit.
Despite this past experience, I eagerly awaited tearing into and tilling a flat, sun-rich patch in my backyard. Meghan is a whole food enthusiast who imagined growing all her own food and I was giddy to start yard work as a new homeowner and husband and provide her that bounty.
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I added the Apple tree on the left and the garden on the right. Lilacs and tulips in the middle courtesy of the former owners.  FYI-we planted a ‘salsa’ garden–Four different types of tomato plants, two peppers, two zucchini and one basil. (A heckuva lot of work just to make a tortilla chip taste better.)
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I started by staking an 11 x 11 area. Then began unrolling, twisting, and cutting the tightly-wound cylinders of chicken wire–I mulched, dug up and axed unsightly bushes, pruned wandering branches, pulled low and tall weeds, trenched along the porch, dug a hole and planted an apple tree. This work puts you on all fours, twists your back and dirties your hands and clothes.
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Generous relatives wedding showered us with gardening utensils, plants, trees, and garden center gift cards.

Several long-married aunts and uncles advised us on how gardening was a great metaphor for marriage.   You have to nurture the growth and prune out the bad stuff along the way.  Unfortunately, the weeds are always under the surface so don’t get cocky and risk letting them through. Be vigilant in plucking them out when any signs appear.
The greatest plant can be still be ruined and wilt if you don’t regularly water it. And you will often smell bad. (I added the last line, speaking for myself)
Author John R. Whiting wrote: “The home gardener is part scientist, part artist, part philosopher, part ploughman.” 
So, I plow on, in writing, in gardening, in marriage, and in parenting with high hopes, little skill and big, green thumbs up.
Even though I’m a novice, I’m encouraged that even the mistakes and the bad stuff that pops up can be turned into compost that can actually help yield fruitful, future harvests.  Challenges can make you grow stronger if you’re willing to take them on, learn from them and well, handle a little shit.
“Life’s a garden. Dig it!” –Garden saying
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Just listen!

My wife, Meghan, told me I needed to start writing again. And I’m practicing listening to my wife. Seems like an attribute that will serve me well in my married life. I need to practice because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

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My excuse is I was unmarried for 42 and a half years…so the only person I’ve ever consistently listened to…is me. Listening to myself, “trusting my gut” is something I’ve probably done a little better than the average guy. It also struck me that listening to yourself means purposely not listening to what others say.

For example.

Coming out of my senior year in high school, no college recruiters thought I should be playing Division 1 football. Not even Division 2. But I wanted to play for my beloved Wisconsin Badgers football team. So, I walked on, tried out…and made the team.

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Then, when I made the team, a coach told me I probably wouldn’t make the team the next year. I decided not to listen and worked out harder…and made the team the next year…and the following three years all the way until we won a Rose Bowl championship for the first time in school history.

So, I’m glad I listened to me and not to others.

If you want to read more about this experience, I wrote a book about it. No Bed of Roses. I’d give you the amazon link…but heck, I’d rather you just contact me and I’ll sell you a signed copy for half price. (Please! I have 3 boxes full in my basement!)

When I graduated with a Journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin and said I wanted to try to be an actor, I listened to myself. So did others. And many didn’t think what I was saying was very wise.

“That’s no way to make a living.” “What? Are you gonna be a waiter?” “Everybody wants to be an actor.” “That’s the most competitive field there is!”

With those sentiments echoing out my ears, I moved to Chicago anyway.

After a few months working at a newspaper, and as a waiter, I booked my first professional acting gig–a Hardees commercial. My girlfriend in the spot, Michelle Monaghan, was also making her TV debut. One of us went on to star opposite Tom Cruise in a couple Mission Impossible movies and headline several other major studio films including Made of Honor, The Heartbreak Kid, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

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I will let you decide whose career was really launched that day.

While stardom may have eluded me, I was able to snag a film role and a TV show pilot while in Chicago and armed with a few lines on my acting resume decided I wanted to go to Los Angeles and try my way onto some more shows and sets out there.

My Chicago acting friends and even my agent told me I was making a mistake. “Too green, too soon.” “You’ll be swallowed up out there.” “You will be back here in 6 months, penniless and broke.” Not sure why she had to add the “…and broke” part…feel like that was covered with “penniless.”

I’m proud to say I didn’t listen and ended up on the set of the hit show, “Party of Five” within eight months of moving to LA.

A.	cast counter clockwise: Scott Wolf (Bailey Salinger), Lacey Chabert (Claudia Salinger), Neve Campbell (Julia Salinger), Jacob Smith (Owen Salinger) and Matthew Fox (Charlie Salinger), star as orphaned siblings in the one-hour Columbia TriStar Television series

And when I say “on the set” I mean, literally, I was knocked down on the set, shoved by lead actor, Matthew Fox’s character, Charlie, for making a pass at his girlfriend!

Welcome to Hollywood!

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I picked myself up, dusted myself off and starred in quite a few commercials, films and shows over the next 9 years. The One with Joey’s Fridge is The One I Will Be Forever Known For amongst my ‘friends’, former classmates, and family, as I was cast as Patrick in the Friends’ episode as a potential date for Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).

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While Rachel and Patrick didn’t make it as a couple, I could say I, Chris, had “made it” as an actor.

What I’d ‘made’ was my own path, without direction from anyone on how to do it. Not only did no one make it for me, “they” told me the path I imagined wouldn’t be possible.

Just like “they” said about me trying to play college football. Just like “they” said about my wanting to be an actor. Just like “they” said about me moving to Los Angeles.

When I first pitched my book, every agent I sent it to told me no. “There are too many college football books out there.” “Oh, that story has been told.” “If you played at USC or Notre Dame, that’s different. Nobody knows about Wisconsin.”

But, I found a publisher, without an agent, and…I had my book published.

So, listening to myself, and blocking out others, served me well and allowed me to accomplishments I’m still proud of to this day. Listening is a good practice.

In the past few years, I’ve neglected my writing.  There are excuses, some I would consider great ones. My marriage and my son, Cash.

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Some, like being too busy or my own general lethargy, not so great.

Other than be a great husband and father…when asked what I do, or what do I want to do, I say “write.”  For awhile now, I haven’t been listening to what I keep saying. But someone has. Meghan has. And, now, she’s telling me to write.

After 43 years, it’s nice to know, there is one less person I have to block out.

And one more person, to practice listening to.