The keys to my stupidity

In case you haven’t figured it out by now from reading this blog, I can be an idiot.  Yes, I know, hard to believe a guy with a perfect brain can be an idiot, but there you go.

But why am I making this confession now?  Well, I figured I’d bashed the the Wife and the Boy enough earlier this month that I should likely pony up some of my own shortcomings.  So, there’s nothing like just admitting it and getting it out there…

I have a problem with keys.

Not a big one, mind you, but a problem nonetheless.  There’s three big incidents that come to mind.

The keys to my stupidity, part one

The first occurred way back in the 80s.  If I had to guess, I’d plunk it down around 1984.  I know I was rocking a mullet at the time (which is idiocy of a whole different nature, and one we’ll reserve for a later blog…or not).

Anyway, being reasonably young and extremely stupid, myself and three friends went out driving all around the area north of Oshawa and Whitby, seeing what dumb things we could do.  I won’t get into most of them here, but I will draw your attention to one particular slice of the evening.

It was at least 4 a.m. at this point and we were getting punchy.  We were on a gravel road somewhere (and, truth to tell, I couldn’t find this spot again…then or now…if you pointed a gun at me) and we stopped on a slight incline to a railway crossing.  Two of the guys got out for a pee, leaving myself and one other to wander aimlessly.

I happened to wander up to the tracks.  First I stood in the glare of the headlights, then I moseyed off to one side.  The guys were still peeing.  I swear, at that age, an average male can urinate for at least ten solid minutes if pressed.

Anyway, when I was in the dark off to the side, I had a thought (my first clue that this wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but of course I totally ignored that).  Wouldn’t it be funny if…?

Oh what the hell, I thought.  I’ll just do it and get a laugh.

So, I kind of trundled along the path of the train tracks into the path of the headlights, and I made a sound like a train whistle and bell.  It’s not easy to reproduce through words, but it kind of went something like, “WOOWOOOOOOOOH!  …dingdingdingding dingdingdingding DINGDINGDINGDING DINGDINGDINGDING DINGDINGDINGDING dingdingdingding dingdingdingding…”

You know, like the bell gets louder then softer again?  Yeah, well, that was me.  Two of the guys found this uproariously funny and fell about themselves.  The fourth?  Still peeing.  Missed the whole thing.  So, he zipped up and asked me to recreate it.

The problem was, the next time I did it, it sounded more like, “WOOWOOOOOOOOH!  …dingdingdingding dingdingdingding DINGDINGDINGDING DINGDINGD–OOOPH!”  The “oooph” part was when I tripped over a rock or something and went sprawling into the gravel.  This time, all three of the guys found this uproariously funny and fell about themselves.

Eventually, around 5:30 a.m., we got back in the car and continued on our mischievous ways.  It wasn’t until I got back to the Whitby Arby’s, where I worked at the time and had parked my car, that I realized I didn’t have my car keys anymore.  We searched the other car, I dug through my pockets, then one of the guys looked at me and said, “Aw dude!  Bet you lost them when you derailed your train!”

All three of the guys found this uproariously funny and fell about themselves.  I had really begun to hate them.

But there was no denying it.  That’s very likely where I lost my car keys.  And the keys to the house.  And the keys to the Arby’s store.

Try explaining that one to your mother when you’re calling her at 5:45 a.m. to come bring your extra set of car keys.  Try explaining to your boss that you lost the store keys because your freaking train derailed.

The keys to my stupidity, part two

Flash forward more than a decade.  I’m married now, I have a couple of kids.  I’m older and wiser, right?

Yeah, dream on, baby.

So at this stage of the game, say, roughly around 1998 or so, my daughter, the Girl, is in Sparks, a precursor to Girl Guides and one of the events they held, which is still something I hold as a treasured moment, was a Daddy-daughter dance.

Now, to some, this might sound like cheese, but honestly, I loved it.  There’s nothing in the world like swaying around a gymnasium floor, holding your daughter’s hands as she looks up at you like you’re the most important, smartest, and most handsome man in the world.  At that moment, no matter who you are, you are that important, smart handsome man.

<Ahem>  Excuse me, something in my eye.  Dust or something…

Anyway, after the dance was over, the Wife, who was a leader for the group, had to clean up.  I helped, as did a couple of the other fathers, then, as is normal with the Wife, everything was done, everyone was ready to go…and she stood talking to one of the mothers or fellow leaders or whatever.  My point is, she wasn’t making any leaving noises.

I got bored.  Not a good thing to let happen to me.  I looked around.  I was in a large gymnasium.  I had nothing to occupy me except…my keys.

I pulled out my massive sprawl of keys, and I tossed them up a couple of feet.  Caught them.  Tossed them higher.  Caught them.  Higher still.  Caught them.

This went on for many minutes.  Eventually, I was tossing them with the intent to just get them to scrape the ceiling.  Just a little scrape.  It’s actually quite challenging and more than a little fun, let me tell you.

The other thing it does is draw the Wife’s attention.  She got annoyed.  I kept doing it, figuring, the more I annoy her, the sooner she’s going to wrap up her damn conversation and we can get the hell outta Dodge.

Then she says, “Tobin!  Stop it!  You’re going to get the keys caught in the rafters!”

I looked up at these support rafters, evenly spaced about five feet apart a good thirty feet above me.  “Holy crap,” I say.  “How in the hell do you figure I’m gonna do that?  There’s no way that’s g–”

The keys got caught in the damn rafter.

Have you ever seen that scene in the movie Porky’s?  The “Why do they call her Lassie?” scene?  The one where some guy is getting it on with a very young, pre-Sex in the City Kim Cattrall  in an area just off the gym, and there’s a teacher in the gym laughing so hard that he ends up hiding behind one of the mats hung off the wall?

When I hooked my keys over that rafter, one of the other fathers recreated the laughing coach to a T.

Took us a good twenty minutes and a very long pole to get it down.  At least I wasn’t bored anymore.  Kinda upped the ante on the whole “the Wife is annoyed” part though.

The keys to my stupidity, part three

And then, not long after that, it’s winter.  I had bought a second hand snowblower off a guy the summer before, had test fired the thing a couple of times, but never got to really take it out for a test drive.  So when we finally got a big dump of snow, I was so ready.

I got all geared up Nanook of the North style, grabbed the keys, backed the cars out of the driveway, got the snowblower out of the shed, lined it up, and cranked on the pull cord.

Sputter and die.

No biggie, thing’s been sitting for months.  It’d almost be a miracle if it fired up on the first try, wouldn’t it?  Crank again.  Sputter and die.

Okay, I’ll save you the agony.  Twenty minutes later, I’ve stripped the Nanook coat off, the gloves are off, I’m sweating like a pig, and my driveway still has as much snow on it as it did twenty minutes earlier.

By this point, my two neighbours across the road are three-quarters done shoveling theirs.  I could only imagine their secret, insidious snickers of derision.  I pressed on.

Twenty minutes after that, I gave up.  Screw the snowblower!  Shoveling is respectful, manly work!  Snowblowers?  Bah!

So, I got the shovel and cleared my entire driveway.  Probably took me twenty minutes.  Casting an evil glance toward the red mechanical beast, I then looked back on my handiwork with pride.  That driveway was clean!

I walked back down to the first car, opened the door, fished for my keys.

No keys.

Check the ignition.

No keys.

Check the other car’s ignition.  Same deal.  Check my coat pockets, pants pockets, even the ring inside the door.

No keys.

Then I think back to all the full-body swaying I was doing as I cranked on that damned snowblower.  Then I pictured the keys flying from a pocket.

And into the two feet of snow.

That I then shoveled more snow on top of.

My neighbours, having just finished their own driveways and now chatting across the street, stared in disbelief as they watched me come out from my shed with a garden rake and start raking the snow back onto my freshly shovelled driveway, each pull punctuated with some seriously manic swearing.

Eventually, the entire top end of my driveway was filled yet again with pre-shovelled snow.

The keys were nowhere to be found.

So, maybe I lost them at some point when I was shovelling?

Yes, in the end, I raked all of the snow that I’d shovelled off the driveway back on the driveway.  There was a three-foot wide path to either side of the driveway that had been cleared of snow.

Still no keys.

That’s when I gave up, took the Wife’s keys, hopped in the car, drove down to Stan’s Rentals and faced the guy behind the desk as I sheepishly asked to rent a metal detector.

The damn thing about it?  I was the third guy that day that had rented it, and when I got it back to him twenty minutes and ten or so dollars later, he’d had two more calls.

So yeah, I’m an idiot when it comes to keys.

But there’s at least four other guys out there that seem to be just as friggin’ stupid.

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My Daughter, Madison

“All my little plans and schemes,
lost like some forgotten dreams.
Seems that all I really was doing
was waitin’ for you.”

The Beatles – Real Love

I don’t think I could ever have imagined this day.

But still, here it is.  Today, my first born, my daughter, my baby, turns eighteen.

Today, my little girl is an adult.

When did this happen?  How did eighteen years go by so quickly?

I can still remember living in our two-bedroom apartment in a not-so-nice area of Oshawa and my wife telling me that, after months and months of trying, she was pregnant.  I remember, I had just turned 30 only two days before, so I went around labelling this as “my last productive act of my 20s.”  I remember telling those that I worked with that my wife and I were going to have a baby.  I remember one of them coming back with the perfect response to the question of what a child of ours would be like.  “Big feet and an attitude,” was the answer.

Eighteen years later, I can say they weren’t far off.

I remember all the walks down by the lake as the day came closer and closer.  I can remember Karen having to swear off coffee, a substance she had been addicted to prior to the pregnancy.  I remember her consuming uncountable tons of cucumbers in the months leading up to delivery.  I can remember us going to buy a crib and Karen bemoaning the fact that she “didn’t look pregnant.”  I can remember two weeks later, Karen upset at “how fat” she was getting.

I remember that last month, when Karen had a daily hankering for Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits.  I remember hoping the baby would come before we gave the last of our money to DQ.

I remember packing her up and getting her up to the hospital early on a Saturday morning in June for her to be induced.  Apparently our baby was quite comfortable where she was and didn’t necessarily feel like coming out into the world without a bit of a push.

I remember going through the entire Saturday, watching other couples come in–many from our Lamaze classes–have their babies and leave.  And there we sat.  I remember all the wonderful nurses at Oshawa General coming in and doing everything they could to make us comfortable.  I remember them all looking at how Karen was carrying, at the fetal heart rate, at all these signs and telling us we were having a boy.  Karen was pretty adamant that it was a girl.  Nurses told us that, in ten, fifteen, twenty years of nursing, they’d never called it wrong.

I remember those nurses pulling a recliner out of their private area so I could stay in the room and try and sleep.

And I remember, finally, late on Sunday afternoon, almost exactly 36 hours after we arrived, watching the birth of my daughter.

Yes, all those nurses got it wrong.  A girl.  My little girl.

And that was the first of many times when she confounded everyone’s expectations.

I remember being shocked at how big she was.  I remember them swaddling her up and laying her on Karen’s chest.  I remember when Karen looked down and talked to her, our baby actually opened her eyes and tilted her head up to look at her mother.  I remember being so…overwhelmed doesn’t cut it, it’s far too small a word for what I felt, but it will have to do…being so overwhelmed by this little living being that we had made.  I remember Karen, dry and thirsty and only allowed ice chips, looking at me and saying in a dry whisper, “iiiiiiiiiccce, iiiiiiiiiice,” and me, goofy and stupid, saying, “yes, she does have beautiful eyes.”

I remember us looking at her and trying the name that we’d had for years on her.  “Does she look like a Madison?”  “Yes, she does, she really does.”

I remember in the weeks afterward, my life taking on a clarity of purpose that I’d never felt before.  I remember being terrified of the responsibility of having this child, but also feeling so absolutely blessed and lucky to have been given this chance to do something right in my life.

I remember taking her to Niagara Falls when she was only weeks old and being told over and over again what a calm, placid baby she was.  One waitress referred to her as a “restaurant baby” because she was so good.

I can remember Madison constantly surprising us with how neat she always was.  With how sharp she seemed to be.  With the depth of her thinking at an early age.   I remember getting out of the car, preoccupied with something, and locking the door, only to have it shut on its own, with both the keys and my baby girl still inside.  She was strapped into her car seat.  It took twenty minutes for a tow truck with a slimjim to show up and get the car unlocked.  I made funny faces through the back window at her to keep her occupied.

I remember her singing the Little Mermaid song, Part of Your World.  And I remember especially the two lines

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore

She’d always say that last word as “gah-more.”

I remember standing in a Home Depot and the last single ever released by the Beatles, Real Love coming on over the speakers and Madison, all of three years old, swaying along with the music, singing her little heart out.

In those middle years, I remember being proud of choices she made.  Of how empathetic and ethical she was.  I remember all those dance classes and sitting through two hours of dance recitals for five minutes of watching her dance.  It was always worth it.

As she grew into her teens, she amazed us even more with the choices of friends she made, with her responsibility, with her dedication to her school work and to her goals.  I remember her earning her Canada Cord from Girl Guides and what a proud moment that was for both her to receive it and her mother to award it to her.  I remember her falling in love with THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.

I remember talking to her in the car, her screwing up her courage to drop off her first resume at the library in Bowmanville.  I remember how nervous she was, but that she had to be the one to do it.  And she did.  And we drove around most of Durham Region, hitting every library and her being so at ease with it by the end of it all.

I remember Karen and I prepping her for that first interview.  I remember her telling me that she got the job.

I remember taking her out just a couple of years ago to start driving, finding an abandoned road and her first time behind the wheel.  “Just take your foot off the brake, honey.  See how the car will just roll forward?”  “WAAAAAAAAAA!”   “What?  What’s wrong?”  “We’re going so faaaaaast!”

I remember all those homework assignments.  I remember talking to her about THE LOVELY BONES as she built her book report, teasing observations out of her.  I remember all those times talking about different stories and plays and books and the wonderful conversations we had.

I remember last year, my first real taste of letting her go.  Of holding up and being strong as she waited to get on the bus with all the other students, then, as the bus pulled away to take them to the airport and, ultimately, to Europe for almost two weeks, me breaking down.

I remember all of it.

And tonight, as I talked to her about going off to Ottawa to study Journalism at Carleton, I saw the dichotomy of my daughter.  How, while she’s grown into a beautiful, intelligent, witty woman and a lovely person, she’s still tenuously hanging on to her childhood, wanting to be carefree and to just have fun.  Apparently our baby is still quite comfortable where she is and doesn’t, at times, necessarily feel like going out into the world without a bit of a push.

She’s always made me proud, she’s always had her father wrapped around her finger.  Yes, I’m aware enough to cop to that one.

But she’s also so much stronger that she knows.  When I look at her, I see, not just the beautiful young woman she’s become, I see the potential in her for the future.  I see in her the ability to make the world open up for her and for her to take it on and bend it to her will.

I remember the baby, I remember the toddler, I remember the girl, I remember the teenager.  I see now the adult.

And, as much as it hurts to let you go, as much as it hurts to even type these words, I look forward to the future.  To your future.

I love you baby girl.

Happy birthday.