Driving Lessons

My daughter, who is 19 now, was headed out to rent a movie the other day and I said I would tag along. That’s when I realized that my son had taken my truck somewhere and the Durango was with my wife. The only vehicle available to us was my daughter’s car. I hesitated.

You see, I’m the one who spent the majority of the time giving her driving lessons. I know what’s been unleashed on the streets. When she took her driving test I fully expected her to fail. Never did I consider she would pass and immediately jump behind the wheel and put innocent citizens at risk. What has our society come to when they are simply rubber stamping kids at these tests? Don’t they know what they are doing? I do!

Now I love my daughter to no end, but her attention span is about as long as the life cycle of a gnat. This fact wasn’t made fully clear to me until our first lesson. Actually, although it was my first lesson with my daughter it wasn’t her first lesson. Her Mother had previously attempted to give her a simple lesson on backing out of and into the driveway. My wife was the one who guided our oldest son as he was learning, so it was natural to assume she would also teach our daughter. That first lesson ended with a visit by the paramedics, structural damage to the garage, and my wife swearing never to get in a car with her again. Thus I was appointed as driving instructor.

The lessons (which I now affectionately refer to as The Black Summer) began just after school let out for the summer. I ignored my wife’s warnings and filed her previous experience under the “hyper-criticism making the daughter nervous” category and forged ahead. She was enrolled to take Drivers Education in mid-June, so we only had a couple of weeks to get her comfortable enough to drive with a smelly gym teacher sitting next to her. I count patience has one of my favorable qualities, but little did I know just how much I was about to have that tested.

For our first lesson I drove with her in my pickup (we didn’t have her car yet) to the high school parking lot. That’s where I learned how to drive my first car and I figured 1) what was good enough for me would do her fine, and 2) what can you tear up in a parking lot? We switched places, I gave her a few simple pointers about accelerating, braking, turning, and the use of turn signals, and we were off. OH MY GOSH! You know what is in and around parking lots? Light post, curbs, a few parked cars, and surrounding fences and walls. She found them all! It was like they were all magnetized and pulled the truck to them. I never thought that an area as vast and empty as a parking lot could suddenly be fraught with dangers everywhere. I quickly realized this was not going to be easy.

Of course I didn’t want to give my wife the satisfaction of saying she was right, so I stretched the truth a little and told her things went OK for her first time out. Ok, I bald face lied. But I regrouped and vowed to double my efforts. My daughter and I went to the parking lot for a couple hours a night for two full weeks. Over the course of that time I lost 10 pounds, large clumps of hair, developed carpel tunnel from clenching the dashboard, and a case of hemorrhoids from puckering my sphincter so tight.

The week she spent in Drivers Education was uneventful. She commented each day that everything went smoothly and that actually she thought she was the best driver among the three girls who were in the car. That sent shivers up my spine. I made it a point to talk to her instructor (the smelly gym teacher) on her final day. He was full of compliments and praise for my daughters driving and said that she just needed more practice before she would be ready to take her test for a license. I think he was a bit put off by my blank stare.

We continued to go on our nightly drives for a couple more weeks, staying to the back roads so we could minimize the number of potential targets. Finally she announced she felt ready to take the test and although my initial reaction might have been to scream NO, I fought back this urge and decided to let her fail the first test so she could get a sense of how much she still needed to learn. Brillant plan you idiot!

It was bad enough knowing she was out there, patrolling the avenues, lanes and boulevards. Now I faced becoming a willing passenger. How could I tell her that what I really wanted to do was get a flashing yellow light and lead interference for her just like they do for wide loads.

We made it there and back without incident, so maybe the driving public (and our insurance rates) are safe. But the miles she’s driving can’t compare to the ones she’s added to the road I’m living. Sometimes they’re a bit bumpy, or take sharper turns then we’d like, but you gotta love the ride!

"Do you want the gas?"

I have a dentist appointment scheduled for next week. It’s just a routine checkup, but I’m hoping they find a small cavity or have to make an adjustment to an existing filling. Why you ask. Gas! I need my fix.

Growing up and for most of my adult life I have hated going to the Dentist. My dislike for dentists began with one of my earliest visits where I was forced to endure some drilling on a “small” cavity without the benefit of Novocain. From that point forward trips to the Dentist brought forth dread and fear. One time after I was seated in the CHAIR, I waited a few of minutes and then took off my bib, walked back out to the sitting room where my Mother was waiting for me, told her I was done, and we were half way out to the car before the dental assistant tracked me down.

My trepidation regarding dental work continued until approximately 10 years ago when I started seeing my current Dentist. It wasn’t really the Dentist himself, for he is a friendly enough bloke with and adequate enough spelunking techniques, but rather his practice of administering gas. I had heard tidbits about Nitrous Oxide, or laughing gas as it is sometimes called, but never experienced it first hand until then. I had mistakenly assumed that the gas was used instead of other pain killing measures, so I didn’t look into it any further. Then I found out through my wife (who visited our current Dentist first) that N2O is in fact a supplement. The Dentist I was seeing at the time did not offer gas, so I scheduled an exploratory visit to check it out. It was love at first inhale!

With the gas they could set off a cherry bomb in my mouth and I could care less. I’m all for legal, mind altering drugs, especially when they’re administered with a healthcare professional close by. If they offered gas for regular teeth cleanings I would make an appointment for once a month instead of every half year. I love my gas!

The last time I visited my Dentist, I was shown back to the CHAIR by a new dental assistant. She asked me, “Do you want the gas?” My huge smile wasn’t to just show off my teeth.

Senseless

Hold on . . . hold on . . . before you hit that comment button and respond by whole-heartedly agreeing, let me save you (and me) some embarrassment. The subject of this blog entry is my total lack of the sense of smell, NOT ANYTHING ELSE! Geez!

A good many of you are aware of my affliction, to others this may be a surprise. I was born unable to detect smells. Weird huh? And yes, I can taste. It is not a well-defined palette (I can't tell the difference between sour cream & onion chips and plain chips - there all just salty chips), but its there. A lot of people tell me that they thought without a sense of smell you couldn't taste . . . not true. I believe that being able to smell your food only enhances your taste.

Growing up I didn't realize I was different until my pre-teen years when I couldn't figure out how my brothers were able to detect what we were having for dinner as soon as we walked in from outside. It never really became a topic for conversation, and when it was discussed, my parents thought I was joking. Finally they decided to take me serious and drug me to see a doctor at the base hospital. He confirmed what I knew all along, I was olfactory challenged.

Do you realize how many times a day somebody sticks something under you nose and says, "smell this"? Throughout high school and most of college, having the type of personality that doesn't draw attention to myself, I would just go along with the crowd and pretend I could smell. "Hmmmm . . . nice" or "Ewwwwwwww" were generally accepted responses. This worked fine until I went on a blind date one night and complimented the girls perfume (that's one of the things your supposed to do, right?). I didn't find out until a couple days later that unbeknownst to me, my date had accidentally let go a SBD (silent but deadly) just before my empty compliment. Needless to say we never went out again, and I also never tried to mislead anybody again.

Human beings can detect 10,000 different smells, but I have to say that as far as missing a sense goes, smelling would be the one I would choose. It has it's advantages. I can't smell other peoples body odors, skunks, cigarette smoke, and a very long list of unpleasant aroma's. This also means you get to change 100% of the dirty diapers if you have kids. I'm also a successful dieter because I'm not tempted by the smell of food. But it can also be dangerous as well. I wouldn't be able to smell a fire if one started in the house, and food that has stayed around a little past it's shelf won't scare me away with its stench.

I do miss out on a lot in other ways as well. Like the smell of a spring shower in the air and freshly baked muffins. I don't even know how my wife smells.

Who knew, but my handicap also means that I lack several key personality traits. For instance, I can't wake up and smell the coffee. I won't ever smell a rat. I'll never know the sweet smell of success or realize someone has a fragrant personality. And most importantly . . . divorce will never be in my future . . . because I'll never learn that . . . Love STINKS!

I Want 10!

My son Boo got himself into some deep trouble a while back. I’ll spare you (and him) the details of his offence, but it was bad enough to warrant more than just a stern lecture. I’m not the type of parent to resort to spanking very much, but I do believe it is a vital and sometimes necessary disciplining technique. For Boo this was going to be his first go round with me being the disciplinarian. He had been spanked previously one time by his mother earlier in the year, so he knew the routine. After he was informed what his punishment was going to be he was banished to his room so he could sit and think about what was coming for a little while. The fear of an impending spanking is just a useful as the spanking itself, so getting it over with too quickly is a waste of good psychological torment. So I let him sit in his room for at least 30 minutes before I headed back there.

When I entered his room I was surprised to see that he was standing beside his bed waiting for me. He was expressionless except for a faint hint of what could be described as determination on his face. There was no whimpering, no tears, and no quivering lip. Nothing. This was definitely not what I had expected. And at that moment I flashed back to a time in my own childhood. Boo’s actions reminded me of a situation I once found myself in. It is a story my mother used to love to tell when she was alive, and thinking about it now reminds me as much of her as it does the circumstances.

Me and my two brothers used to fight all of the time. My older brother is 11 months older than me and my younger brother was three years younger. Both of them have always towered over me in stature.

One day after school, I think I was ten at the time, me and my brothers got into it. The reason for the fight was probably something minor and stupid, but first came the yelling, then the shoving back and forth which then disintegrated into a three man wrestling match. Our mom usually tuned out our horseplay and didn’t get involved, but this time an exceptionally hard push combined with tripping over a sneaker ended up with me colliding loudly with a wall and subsequently leaving a large dent in the wallboard. Going instantly to silent mode, we could hear her heavy footsteps as they approached the bedrooms from the other side of the house. Naturally she was livid. She didn’t even try to listen to my explanation of what had happened, instead sending us to our respective rooms and beds with the spine chilling closing line of, “wait until your father gets home!”

Being the head of a military family with three rambunctious boys should have been worth a college course credit in discipline. My father was fair, but firm with his punishment, and he got to practice it a lot. After years of trial and error he had settled on a wide black leather belt that he no longer wore as his implement of pain. He always wielded it with no malice and made sure we knew why we were having to suffer at the end of it. Even so, the dread we felt leading up to our eventual punishment was always mind numbing.

Just before nightfall I heard the car door of my father’s Buick clank shut outside and shortly thereafter the front door opened and closed. I could only hear the murmur of voices and I imagined my mother telling him the events of the day. A couple minutes later the unmistakable footfalls of my fathers dress shoes made there way down the hallway towards my room. He stuck his head into my room and said, “Follow me.” As expected, his expression was not favorable.

As I trailed him down the hallway to the room my brothers shared, staring at the infamous black leather belt sticking out of his back pants pocket.

In my brothers room I took a seat next to my younger brother on his bed as dad inspected the damage to the far wall. Both of my brothers looked like they had been crying and my younger brothers had his hands jammed beneath him. He was already protecting himself from the forthcoming blows.

When dad turned back towards us I think his face was a shade or two darker.

“Who hit the wall” he asked.

“I did,” I answered truthfully.

“Stand up,” he commanded. The three of us did as he asked and a barely audible moan seemed to emanate from my younger brother.

Then my dad did something he had never done before. He stood in front of my older brother and asked, “how many?”

Confused my brother replied, “huh?”

“I said how many,” my dad repeated.

My older brother thought for a moment and then answered in an unsure tone, “one?”

My dad nodded his head and then slowly turned around and faced my younger brother.

“How many,” he repeated the question to him.

My younger brother glanced briefly at my older brother and then replied, “one,” as well.

Then dad moved in front of me and stood silent for a minute. “How many?” he asked me.

I am not a fan of pain. Nor was I grooming myself to grow up to be some sort of Norma Rae. So I don’t know why I answered like I did, all I can do is plead temporary insanity.

“I want ten,” I answered defiantly.

“How many” he repeated, even though there was no mistaking my answer.

“I want ten,” I answered again, purposely not breaking eye contact.

We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. At first I thought his eyes were going to burn holes through my brain and the need for the belt would be moot, but slowly his eyes softened and I thought I caught the sparkle of a smile starting to form. Then he turned around and left the room.

The three of us just stood there staring at one another with dumb expressions on our faces. A few minutes later he returned. In his hands, instead of the black leather belt, was the cookie jar.

He reached into the jar and pulled out a single cookie and handed it to my older brother who took it slowly, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Next he pulled another single cookie from the jar and handed it to my younger brother, who immediately started eating it. And to me, he handed ten chocolate chip cookies.

“You all will be doing chores for a month to pay for that wall,” he said as he walked out the door.

So as I entered Boo’s room and saw him standing there, bravely waiting to face the music, I thought of that story and how my mom loved to tell it.

And so I asked him, “how many?”

“Huh?”

“How many?”

He seemed to think about this for a second and then he answered confidently, “five.”

I picked him up, gave him five kisses across his face, hugged him tightly and said, “You can thank your Grandpa for that one!”

My Favorite Coaching Story

I’m pretty much retired from coaching now. I guided my oldest (who is 22 now) through all his years of youth soccer and little league baseball, with a couple stints of pee wee football and basketball thrown in. My youngest, who is now 10, doesn’t possess the same competitive nature of his older brother, so I’ve turned the coaching reins over to other coaches with a more “laid-back” style then myself. Believe me; it works out better for both of us that way.

My involvement never stopped at being a coach, at the bare minimum I would normally volunteer to be an age group coordinator, and at the pinnacle I was elected President of the soccer league and Vice-President of Baseball. Over the years I gave numerous speeches to new or prospective coaches about what it was like to take charge of a team. I would usually tell the story about an experience I had early in my career that changed the way I approached the responsibility. It became one of my favorite coaching stories.

It involved my oldest son’s 7-8 year old baseball team. There was a player on that squad named Lucas. Lucas was the type of kid who was picked last for any sport. The poor boy had zero athletic ability. Nada. It was his first year to play organized sports and he even had to be shown which hand to wear his glove on. He was a very quite boy, but he always did as he was instructed enthusiastically.

At that age the boys hit off a pitching machine. They are allowed three strikes just like regular baseball, but they could not be walked. So it was either hit the ball or strike out. Lucas did not get a hit all year long. NOT A SINGLE ONE. All of the coaches tried everything we could think of to help him make contact with the ball, but to no avail. In the field I cannot remember a single thing he did all season long that would have rated an “atta boy”, and yet he received a high five when coming into the dugout just like everybody else. He tried as hard as he could, but he just didn’t possess the skills.

I am not one of those coaches who places winning above everything else. Of course I want to win, badly sometimes, but I always consider the feelings of the boys first (on both sides of the field) and the fact that Lucas didn’t contribute was never an issue for me. It would have made my whole season if he just would have hit the ball once!

But why Lucas sticks with me to this day has nothing to do with how he performed that year. Three months after baseball season had ended I was walking with my son to a soccer game and I passed some bleachers near one of the fields. Sitting on the bottom step near the middle was Lucas. I noticed him and remembered his name (which isn’t always easy). I called out “Hey Lucas, how ya doin?” To my surprise Lucas bolted from his seat on the bleachers straight to me, hugging me tightly around the waist. And it wasn’t just one of your run of the mill hugs either…..there was emotion behind that hug.

I was taken aback. Seeing boys that I coached at the sports complex was commonplace and most of them remembered me with a meek “Hi”, but nothing like Lucas’s reaction. I had touched this boy in some way to a point where he felt comfortable showing that type of emotion to me. Although I had given Lucas as much attention during the season as any of the other players on that team, for him it meant something more.

Lucas didn’t play baseball the next year and I only saw him a couple more times after that. Each time I received the same hug. I still think of him often. I would tell the new coaches that Lucas showed me the affect a coach can have on a young player. It can sometimes be remarkable, and that you might not be able to tell it on the surface.

Sometimes the child who will do the least for the team, is the one a coach will have the most impact on.

I Can’t Do GOLF!

There’s something wrong with me. I live in Arkansas (the Natural State) but I have no interest in hunting (still don’t understand how they can call that a sport). I live in the bible belt but I’m an Agnostic. And I’m a corporate executive but I don’t like to golf. Any ONE of these offences would make me a social outcast in my community, but I’m guilty of all THREE. To counter balance the scales I live in a dry county but I drink like a fish. Somehow that still doesn’t work in my favor.

Now I have a lot of respect for people who play golf. That respect is borne from me having tried, and tried, and tried to grow to like the sport by playing it with family, friends, and my executive cohorts. It is an extremely difficult sport that takes years to master. My problem is that I can never get motivated to devote the time to develop the necessary skill set to at least appear competent. And it’s not that it’s not entertaining either. There is nothing funnier than seeing a group of people diving for cover when an errant swing sends a ball careening their way. Or seeing a group of inebriated gentlemen in the group ahead of you “moon” the ducks on the pond they just lost half a dozen balls in. Or reaching a green in two strokes, only to 10 putt. No sir, golf can be downright hysterical.

My family was in town this past weekend and so being the good son that I am I arranged for a group of us to go golfing. Tennis, basketball, soccer, flag football, roller blading, softball, biking, and a long list of other sports that I am good at weren’t an option because my father is 71 and my father-in-law is 69. So golf it was. Of course no decent golf course is within less than an hours driving distance (that must be some hidden golf code). So between the commuting and the 18 holes, we spent 7 hours “golfing” Saturday.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the time with my family and the laughs and joshing that took place during the day. You would think that I would spend more time trying to learn the game that most everybody else in my family enjoys, for no other reason than self preservation. You see, high score always pays.

Like I said……there’s something wrong with me.

First Round Draft Pick

Three days a week I try and visit our local Health Club, doing my best to stave off old age and atone for the long list of goodies I had been banned from eating, but did anyway. Yesterday I was there cooling down after a vigorous workout by stepping around the walking track. Our health clubs walking area is situated so that it overlooks a basketball court below. As I made my way around the oval, lost in my own thoughts as I listened to music from my IPod, I took notice of a small boy playing with a basketball beneath me.

The little guy was maybe seven or eight years old and was so small that it appeared that he was dribbling a giant orange boulder rather than a basketball. From the awkwardness in his movements and the way he handled himself, I could tell he wasn’t destined to be a star athlete. His shorts were baggy, causing him to constantly tug them back into position, and his t-shirt must have been an older brother hand-me-down as it was three sizes too large for him. I watched as he valiantly struggled to lift the ball above his head and thrust it in the direction of the goal. The ball ascended three or four feet, then fell back to the court, well short of the goal or even the backstop. The ball would bounce away as if it were trying to escape the diminutive overlord who sought to imprison it within the oval circle, the small boy scurrying relentlessly after it. Capturing the ball again he would return to his spot underneath the goal, wrestle the ball into shooting position, and launch it on its way. Each time the ball would fall back to the ground, well short of the intended target.

After a half dozen of these attempts I really started to take an interest in this kid. Looking around the rest of the area below I saw a group of teenagers shooting around at the other end of the court, but nobody who seemed to be paying particular attention to this little boy. He wasn’t trying to impress anybody, or curry the prideful support of a loving parent. His motivations were much simpler. If Kobe, or Lebron, or even Jordan could do it . . . then so could he.

When I counted a dozen unsuccessful attempts by the boy, my walk had almost slowed to a standstill. In my mind I wished that science had progressed to the point where it had become possible to extract whatever it was that drove that little man, and bottle it. Failure had no effect on him. Over and over he threw up his ball, ever confident in his mind that each toss was getting that much closer to his goal. Another person might have looked upon his efforts and scoffed at the futility. But I didn’t.

After a while, the number of teenagers at the other end of the court had grown and decided to expand their game to full-court. The little boy conceded his spot without a word, walking over to stand against the wall with his ball, watching as the interlopers chose teams.

I headed off to the showers, unable to get the little guy out of my mind. I decided that if I were one of those teenagers about to play, one lucky enough to be named captain of one team, my first choice might not be the smartest or most popular one. But it would be the right one.

That little boy would be my first round draft choice.
 

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