Friday, February 19, 2010

A column . . . written by the family dog.

Hello. My name is Tucker and I am the Ryerson family dog. Now I am fully aware that I have been picked on and the butt of many jokes in this column (I mean, they cut my hair into a Mohawk – come on!), so I thought I’d get in my two cents worth. The truth is, my human, Matt, is not near as smart as he thinks he is. In fact, watching him struggle to write a 500 word column one time a week is simply embarrassing. That is why I decided to step in and give him a break this week. Besides, working this computer really isn’t all that difficult; except for the lack of fingers (paws aren’t ideal for typing).

I don’t recall my life as a young pup. My first memory is sitting in the palm of the hand of my owner in a parking lot south of Atlanta. My owners were not married at the time, only engaged (oh the silly rituals you humans go through), so I went to live with the male, Matt is what other humans call him. He seemed to believe he was the alpha in that relationship (I think he still believes that), but that was clearly not true. Later that same year, they went on to become man and wife (we call that relationship ‘mate’, but whatever).

At that point in time, I was the king of the homestead, lord of the manor, and I had run of the house. I was the centerpiece of the family and I would get shown off to all sorts of visitors. I went on every trip to the store and was taken to the park on a regular basis. Suddenly, my humans came home one day and were acting differently. I immediately noticed I wasn’t getting as much attention and taking fewer trips than I traditionally received. Even my best efforts to gain their attention only resulted in scorn (apparently you humans don’t appreciate the way I mark my territory).

Shortly after that change, they brought home another little human. This guy began his time in our home as quite the pest and certainly hogged much of the attention that used to be mine. Fortunately, I am comfortable in my own fur and don’t need constant praise and attention to feel good about myself (unlike some other little human I knew). Shortly after we settled into a routine, they showed up at the house with another one of these needy little humans (although she is cute) to disrupt our family utopia. Nonetheless, after a short adjustment period, we all became accustomed to one another and I found out that the addition of these two little humans only resulted in MORE attention and love.

So why am I writing you this story (other than my human Matt was flat out of decent ideas for this column and I wanted to save you the pain of reading another boring story of his childhood)? It is only to tell you that if you are so fortunate to be allowed to live with one of my relatives (you call us ‘the family pet’), recognize that we are a part of the family. We contribute to the level of happiness (I might argue that we are the REASON for the happiness) and role model unconditional love (except for those crazy cats, I am not so sure about them). By the way, when it comes time for the family photo – don’t forget about us! We enjoy showing off our humans to our friends just like anyone else.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thanks for your patience . . . whatever your name is.

I have a mental deficiency. Now many of you who know me may be saying to yourself, “only one?” (imagine my sarcastic laugh inserted here). Well, I am specifically talking about my incredible lack of ability to remember names. I have tried pneumonics, memory tricks, and repetition among other efforts and I still struggle finding a way to effectively remember names. Ultimately, I just decided that I must not have inherited the gene that helps us commit names to memory (deflect blame to parents here). Unfortunately, this mental defect, can lead to embarrassing and awkward situations.

Recognizing this short-coming pushed me to develop several creative “tricks” that helped me re-introduce myself without revealing my utter lack of name recognition (none of which I plan on revealing here in case I need to use one of them on you). Unfortunately, these “tricks” have not always been effective and when they fail, I have faced embarrassing and awkward situations.
I remember one such occasion that occurred when I was the director of a summer camp at a YMCA. In preparation for the summer, I had to hire a staff which was approximately 30 staff people. As all of these staff members returned for training I had the duty of signing them in at a registration desk. One girl walked up to the desk and I could recall that I had hired her as one of my program managers, a leadership position on our team. I also remembered her first name was Melissa (which was actually a great accomplishment for me), but her last name was escaping me. I decided to employ one of my sure-fire “tricks” for getting her last name without being exposed.

“Melissa, great to see you joining the team. I’m going to get you registered, but can you spell your last name for me again?” I said with a sense of confidence.

She stared at me blankly for a moment and then she slowly spelled, “S-M-I-T-H”. To add insult to injury she followed that with, “Yeah, it’s a tough one to spell, I get that all the time,” and she walked off with a sarcastic smile on her face.

In hindsight, I should have had her sign herself in, but my over confidence in my “trick” was my downfall. As a result, I spent the better part of that summer as the butt of many spelling jokes.The danger in me writing this column is obvious; I’ve introduced you to one of my most embarrassing weaknesses and a very large character deficiency in the area of name recollection (so much for a career in politics). This makes me very vulnerable. However, I am making a commitment to do better, work harder, and ultimately be more effective at remembering names. But if you approach me at church, at a community event, or at a dinner party and ask if I recall your name – don’t be offended when I say, “Sure I do, but can you tell me how to spell it?”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I was a great baseball player, until I played with great baseball players

Is there a difference between who we believe ourselves to be and who we envision ourselves as? Have you ever listened to a recording of your own voice? It never sounds the same as you think it sounds. Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought, who is that? Most of the time, how we see ourselves in our mind is different (sometimes much different) than who we really are.
I believe this probably begins in our childhood. I remember as a child believing I had superpowers. I felt like if I focused on a superhero state of mind that I could apply superhero talents to my life. On one such occasion I convinced myself that I could leap our local creek in a single bound. The creek was about 30 feet wide and therefore slightly wider than the long jump world record, nonetheless, I believed I had super powers and this was not going to be a problem. I probably don’t need to tell you how this story turns out, but it was wet.
Another time, when I was entering college as a freshmen, I decided to try and become a “walk on” for my university baseball team. Now I had been a decent player in high school, maybe better than average (interpret this as All Star in my eyes at that time). I had been thinking about the try outs for several months, had done some private training and felt very confident in my chances. Additionally, my friends and family had invested a lot of time and energy in telling me how good of a ballplayer I was.
I’ll never forget the first day of tryouts. I volunteered to be the first batter in a brief scrimmage with some of the guys playing varsity, I felt ready. I swaggered up to the batter’s box, dug in and prepared for the first pitch. The pitcher wound up and fired what I think was a straight fastball. The truth is, I hardly saw it and have no idea what type of pitch it was. He was the fastest pitcher I had ever faced and every pitch was a blur. To give you a tangible example, have you ever watched American Idol and a contestant is singing for the judges and they are just awful, but when asked, they say that everyone they know has told them they were a great singer? Let’s just say, I know that feeling.
So, how do we bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be? The best way is to recognize ourselves for who we really are and work diligently to build our strengths and overcome our weaknesses. Or maybe we don’t, maybe the next time you look at yourself in the mirror - take a long, hard look at who you really are and embrace the fact that people love you as is, accepting who you are, limitations and all. OR, lastly and probably the most popular choice is to continue your delusional beliefs about your greater self – it’s usually a nicer vision anyway.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Daddy Daughter Date Disaster

Last week, my son and I committed to a work project together with great success and a closer bond. This week, I decided a daddy-daughter date was in order. Sesame Street was in town and I decided that would be the perfect date for me and my 17 month old daughter. The evening started off good as we actually left on time, unfortunately that was the high point as it was all downhill from there.
When we arrived at the event, it suddenly started raining, not just raining, but downright pouring – the type of rain the Noah would be proud of. We ran to the auditorium to the ticket counter only to find out that the $12 tickets I had planned on were gone and only the $19 tickets remained.
We found our way to our seats only to find a family already in them. The show was just beginning and I didn’t want to ask them to move, so we found some open seats a few rows back. My daughter immediately grew tired of her shoes and threw them down, one landed several aisles up from us and hit a child with the family that stole our seats – I guess she was not quite as forgiving as her daddy. After apologizing and retrieving the shoe, we settled into our seats.
As the show started, my daughter became restless and wanted to get down to run the aisle, in the daddy’s tradition of poor judgment on such issues, I let her go. She was now in her socks (see story above about shoe tossing) and the floor was slippery so she immediately fell to the floor and bumped her head. This led to several minutes of very loud crying. Several people glanced back at us, giving us the dirty looks that say, “Can’t you keep that child quiet, we’re trying to watch the show.” One of those people was the patriarch of the family who stole our seats – I no longer had any sympathy for this family.
After she settled down, we started to watch the show, I took two photographs and suddenly she became restless again. She wanted down so she could run the aisle. I was wiser this time and would not allow it, but that only served to make her mad and she started screaming (see above story about the dirty looks and apply it to this point of the story as well). The next hour resembled a professional wrestling in which I was the unanimous loser. By the time Elmo came out to take his final bow, I was exhausted and ready to go.
You may be asking yourself at this point, why would you tell this story? What benefit did you or your daughter get from this “date”? Well, it didn’t seem like much fun to me either, but the next day, my daughter wanted me to hold her, read to hear, put her to bed, and even called out for me (not mommy) when she was in bed. This is really the first time any of this had happened at this level. It was like this long, frustrating, and difficult evening was a turning point in our relationship and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope this is the beginning of her becoming “Daddy’s Girl”.

Which way is home?

Over a recent weekend, I was taking a training tour of the back roads of Bradley County. I had beautiful weather, I felt great, and my training times were excellent. I have a race coming up in September which includes a 56 mile bike, so I decided it was important to begin logging some serious mileage on the bike. My normal ride to Red Clay State Park (which is a hidden GEM in our community, if you’ve never been, you must go visit) only takes me a total roundtrip of about 23 miles and I wanted to go further on this ride so I just went right on by the park and continued on into Whitfield County (this was my first mistake).

As I enjoyed the gentle rolling hills of North Georgia and SE Tennessee, I began to realize that nothing looked familiar. A few miles later came a sign welcoming me to Hamilton County. It was at this point that I realized I wasn’t 100% sure where I was (this is man-code for “I was lost”). I passed a number of churches with unfamiliar names like Antioch Baptist and Apison Seventh-Day Adventist. I even passed a few country stores, but I never once stopped for directions. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that I should.

This created in me a flashback to my youth. I must have been 11 or 12 and I was in the car with my dad. We were driving around Cincinnati, clearly lost, when I asked, “Dad, why don’t we stop and ask for directions?” His answer was classic, “If we just keep going this way we’ll eventually run into something I recognize.” I think it was the Indiana State Line that convinced him we’d gone too far. However, it is now clear to me that this gene has been passed down to me.

Eventually I arrived at an old gas station called “County Line Store”. Unclear about which county line I was straddling, I finally decided it was time to ask for directions. I must have been quite the sight, wandering into this old country store in my bike gear (not the most flattering casual wear) and asking, “Where am I?” The kind woman did not pass judgment and helped me on my way home. After 37 miles (and still many to go), I had to call my wife for a “rescue” pick-up, the first time in my many years of riding Bradley County back-roads.

This latest adventure (some might call it a misadventure) made me think about all the little things we pass down to our children unintentionally. Is it refusing to ask for directions, impatience, forgetting to put the toilet seat down (apparently another one I have inherited); or will we leave positive habits for our children to duplicate like telling your family “I love you,” on a daily basis, smiling, being polite, or being generous. It is important that we are intentional and conscious of what we role model for our children. Unfortunately for my son, he is doomed to wander around old country roads until he is so lost he must be rescued.