I grew up playing hockey as the son of a man who grew up playing hockey. My dad has two signed letters from the then General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Jack Adams, inviting him to come to training camp. My young father declined both invitations and went on to have a 34-year career as a public educator in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are his team but he holds the Red Wings in high regard after the interest they showed in my father and his hockey abilities.
So, to me, it seemed entirely fitting in 2002 that the day after the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Detroit Red Wings that my first child, my daughter Avery, was born. I’ve told this story before but I’ll sum it up for everyone again.
It was June 13, 2002, and my wife was 37-weeks pregnant. With it being her first child and everything progressing normally we weren’t planning on her giving birth quite yet. We were lying in bed watching the hockey game, well, I was watching and my wife was doing a good job of not being too annoyed with my talking to the television as I watched. Detroit won and Steve Yzerman skated over to The Cup with his daughter at his side. As soon as he lifted the cup and handed it to coach Scotty Bowman I leaned over and patted her belly and said, “Okay, you can give birth now.” Well, wouldn’t you know it? The next morning she woke me up at some ungodly hour and told me that her water broke. At 17:17 on June 14, 2002, our daughter came into the world. I finally had my very own little Stanley Cup.
Last year was the first time since 2002 that the Stanley Cup was handed out on June 13. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins could win it if they beat the San Jose Sharks on home ice. If not, game six will go on Sunday night. If San Jose wins that one then game seven will be on June 15. So, there’s no chance for a repeat of my special moment. In that case, I’d rather Pittsburgh end it quickly. That way I still stand a chance to win a hundred bucks in a hockey pool.
Still, I’ll be watching the Cup deciding games to the very end regardless of how late they run. It’s something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. There’s something about seeing that trophy get hoisted in the air that gives me chills. I got to touch it at the Hockey Hall of Fame once and I was in complete awe. It’s the greatest trophy in all of sport and I will forever associate it with one of the greatest moments in my life.
I’m going to take this opportunity to write about how awesome my kids are.
I realize that most parents say this about their kids and many of them are right. Allof them should be blogging about it. Kids who are awesome and do awesome things deserve to be praised from the highest mountains. So here’s my story about a weekend that my kids turned from ordinary to extraordinary in a span of less than twenty-four hours.
For those who don’t know, I have two children with my wife of sixteen years: a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. Through some weird nickname wormhole, these two fine little humans are affectionately referred to as “Pants” and “Dude”, which are actually short for “Princess Pants” and “Doodle”, which were actually short for “Princess Paloney Baloney” and “Mister Doodle” (he was 10 lb 9 oz when he was born and when you’re that big they call you Mister).
Anyhow, they’re great kids, but unlike a lot of other kids I know neither of them are crazy interested in competitively doing things. Pants stopped figure skating right before it got really serious (phew!) and Dude had shown only mild interest in such things – until bowling, that is (the funny thing is that we were calling him Dude before he started bowling).
This is his third year of 5-pin bowling. For the uninitiated, 5-pin bowling is done with a smaller ball (with no holes in it) and there are, appropriately, five pins which are arranged in a wide “V” shape. Unlike 10-bin bowling where each pin is worth one, in 5-pin the head pin is worth 5, the two beside it are each worth 3, and the two end pins are each worth 2. You get to bowl three balls per frame (instead of two), with the same strike and spare rules as in 10-pin (i.e. your strike counts all pins plus the next two balls with your spare counting all pins plus your next ball). A perfect game is 450.
Dude’s best score is 221 but his average is sitting around 127, which is pretty good for a 9-year-old playing with kids a year older than he is (Bantam age bracket is 7-10). This past weekend Dude went to his regular bowling league game on Saturday while Pants and I were hanging with a friend of mine (more on that later). Turns out he qualified to compete in the Zone Championships the next day at some lanes one city over (20 minutes or so by car). So, Sunday morning my wife packed him up and got him registered. Before he left he said to me, “I feel like I’m going to have a good day.”
Understatement of the year, kid.
With nine frames done in his first game he was below average by enough that it wasn’t looking too good. Then, in the tenth frame he bowled three strikes in a row for his first ever turkey (that’s what you call three strikes in a row in bowling) for a 160. His second game was a 171, followed by a 147 and a consistent 148. After four games he was 92 pins up on the next boy but fatigue started to set in and he rounded out his first five-game set with the only one below his average, carding a 124. His average over the five games was 150.
Even with the sub-par last game, his lead held up and he was crowed the Bantam Boys (Singles) Zone Champion earning him a spot at the Provincial Championships on March 6. We couldn’t be more thrilled. He keeps asking when he can watch the movie The Big Lebowski. If he wins provincials I just might let him.
“The medal doesn’t say first place, but I won, and it’s gold, so that’s okay.” – The Dude
The Dude Abides
Remember how I mentioned Pants and I were hanging with a friend of mine on Saturday while Dude was bowling? Well, this friend is a super rad guy named Jim. Aside from being an all ’round good guy, Jim is also musically inclined. He plays guitar, bass, a little keyboard, and taught himself to play the harmonica the other day – just because. Jim and I played in a little coffee shop trio called Argyle Speedo with our friend Steph a while back. It was fun. I like writing lyrics to stuff Jim creates, though they tend to be on the depressing side, whereas Jim’s wheelhouse tends toward happy fun stuff.
Anyway, Jim was taking an art sabbatical and spending all his non-sleeping time at Kwartzlab and wanted me to hang with him and create stuff one day. I asked if Pants could join us because she recently picked up her guitar for the first time in well over a year (with only 8 months of lessons under her belt) and I thought it would be cool for her to experience the creation of art for no other reason than to create art. Jim being Jim thought this was a top shelf idea and on Saturday around 10:30 in the morning Pants and I met him at the lab. He was upstairs shooting footage for a vlog and had an array of recording equipment and instruments lying around.
We just fiddled with instruments for a bit, with Jim and Avery randomly strumming stuff and me trying to figure out the cajon drum box. After a couple hours of playing some John Lennon, Vance Joy, Axis of Awesome and other random stuff we grabbed a sandwich.
After lunch, we got out the trusty “How to Write a Hit Song” cheat sheets and Avery picked a major key and a chord progression and just started strumming, Jim got the harmonica out and started playing his brand new mouth organ, and I started banging on the cajon. A couple minutes later it sounded like a song.
I was mentioning that I only wrote sad lyrics and this song needed words. Avery, rather shyly, mumbled something. I went to write it down and she was hesitant to repeat it. After some coaxing I got her to give me the line.
“I’d walk backwards to the moon if it meant I could see you smile”
I encouraged her to get more out and Jim reminded us that it didn’t have to rhyme. We played off the action “walk”. What else can you do? Run, jump, leap…
“I’d somersault into outer space if you’d talk to me for a while”
There was discussion on how to properly spell “somersault”, which distracted Jim from the rhyming. And so it went until we had two short verses of four lines each.
I’d walk backward to the moon If it meant I could see you smile I’d somersault into outer space If you’d talk to me for a while
I’d hang upside down from the clouds To see your sparkling eyes I’d hold onto you for some amount of time If we didn’t have to say goodbye
Against the music it was starting to sound even more like a song. It was a song! It was a song that needed a chorus, so back to the cheat sheet we went. Once we had chords we liked for it Jim played around with it a bit and we got working on the lyrics for the chorus.
We tried a few things and scratched out most of them, and with Jim singing them out loud while tinkering with strum patterns we landed on the following:
Backwards somersaults upside down Holding onto you Wishing time would come around So I can stay with you
Ink will fade But memories last Memories last Ink will fade But memories last Forever
We gave it a run through and decided to play around with the order of things, stitching it together thusly:
Verse 1 Chorus Verse 2 Harmonica Solo Chorus Last Half of Chorus
With Avery and I singing, me on the cajone, and Jim on his guitar we gave it a spin and it sounded pretty good. Did I mention that there were other people in the lab working on various things? This made me feel a bit self-conscious and I thought it would make Pants clam up for sure, but it wasn’t a problem. She was so focused on this song that the room may as well have been empty.
Jim then did a track just with guitar and then the harmonica solo and then Pants was up for the first vocal track. Jim said it would be weird listening with the headphones and singing into a mic but Pants, who hasn’t had a single voice lesson, wasn’t properly warmed up, and had only sung the lyrics a few times stepped up and gave it a whirl. A little off key and a little screw up on the second verse, she plowed through and got the job done!
Then, it was my turn. Jim was right about singing with headphones on into a mic. I found it really weird and after one verse immediately needed a do over. Second time through, a little off key and with the same screw up (not on purpose) on the second verse we were done.
Pants gave the second verse another shot and improved it a little, then Jim put the bass line on it (or maybe he did that earlier, I can’t remember) and crammed it all into his magic music making app and there was a real life MP3 to show for the day’s efforts. Time had run out and Pants and I had to get going, so there wasn’t the opportunity to do any of the vocal tracks over again. This concerned Pants at first but Jim and I explained that most songs she listens to have had hours and hours of recording and editing. She spent probably 8 minutes, as a first timer no less, laying this track down.
Jim has a great saying: Perfect is the enemy of done.
We got into the car and Pants looked over at me with a big smile on her face. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had. I can’t believe I just wrote and recorded a song!”
Jim did a bit of editing on the song and asked if I’d ask Pants if she was okay with the song being put out into the world. She said yes, and I could not have been more proud. I made sure she knew it, too. It takes some serious intestinal fortitude to put anything that you know isn’t perfect out into the world, let alone to do that and have all the additional pressures of being a teenage girl and wanting to fit in and be cool. Plus, the internet can be a cruel place.
After she agreed, she looked at me with a smidgen of doubt. I told her that no, it wasn’t perfect and we all made mistakes, but it was a first cut of something wonderful and if anyone wants to give her grief over it that she can tell them to stuff it.
Expect a version done by Woot Suit Riot soon, as well as improved vocal tracks from Avery and I at some point, but for now here it is…
If there’s one thing you can count on when you pick up a book it’s that there will either be someone or something to root for, someone or something to root against, or some combination of the two. It’s what makes the story interesting. It allows the writer to take the reader through a series of ups and downs and showcase all the pitfalls and adversity that the main character faces on the way to achieving, or not achieving, their dramatic need. While certainly there are myriad ways to accomplish this many times it boils down to something simple: protagonist versus antagonist, good versus evil, hero versus villain.
I’ve read quite a few books in my day, and seen quite a few movies, and I find myself drawn not as much to the hero as I am the antihero. That’s just a personal preference though and I’m sure there’s a psychologist out there who could explain it. Never the less, I like my heroes (or antiheroes, or villians for that matter) to be based on the types of people I see on a day-to-day basis and on the news – only exaggerated. You could say that I enjoy stories that involve fantastic versions of everyday people.
Sherlock Holmes is a good example. Here’s a man using his wits and ingenuity to fight the evil lurking around the corner (who is also just an exaggerated example of a bad person you could meet on any given day). Iron Man would be another. Tony Stark is a flawed, but thoroughly brilliant and excessively rich man who invents technology to build a virtually indestructible armored suit he wears to fly around in saving the world from harm. I also think this is what draws people to Batman. As the caption in the photo above reads, if you ever have a choice, always be Batman.
If you were to ask me who my two favorite heroes are I’d answer without hesitation: Iron Man and Batman. At least that would have been my answer until January 23, 2015. That day everything changed. If I’m being honest it had been changing for months, but that was the day my answer changed for good. I can even pinpoint the precise moment: 9:40 AM. It was at that exact moment I looked into the eyes of a girl we call Princess Pants (Pants for short) and I realized that the only answer to the question, “Who’s your favorite hero?” that I’m ever going to give is this: my daughter.
I’m not sure how many of you have been following along but my wife, daughter, and I have been blogging about my daughter’s experience with scoliosis. It’s been a terrifying journey and one where I have learned a lot about myself, my wife, family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and kind-hearted strangers from all over the world. But what I have learned from all those people combined pales in comparison to what I learned about my daughter.
You can read about the adventure on the scoliosis blog, and I would encourage you to do so, but it can be summed up thusly:
My daughter’s scoliosis was getting worse and worse by the day. Each week that passed you could visibly see the deterioration. It was just a matter of time before she would be experiencing constant pain and her spine would accordion and look like a flattened “S”. Surgery was required, and on January 20, 2015 that’s exactly what she had. I walked her to the operating room and at 8:20 AM that morning she drifted off to sleep. More than eleven hours later we got word from the surgical team that they were done. Two titanium rods were now permanently screwed into her spine with 27 titanium screws. The surgery was a success but she was under for so long they were keeping her sedated and on a ventilator for another 12-24 hours. Oh, and she needed 6 liters of blood during surgery (just about two full transfusions). Oh, and she was covered from knees to neck in hives from an unknown allergic reaction. At 9:30 AM the morning of the 21st they woke her up and extubated and got her breathing on her own. The hives had disappeared, whatever the allergic reaction was had worked itself through. Three hours later she was sitting in a chair with a Popsicle. The ICU nurse said she was hours ahead of the curve. By 4:00 PM that afternoon she was the healthiest kid in the ICU, and since they needed the beds, she was on her way down to a ward room. She skipped the step-down room altogether. The next day, January 22, she was getting out of bed and sitting up in a chair and eating (albeit very little as the pain meds and anesthetic do some weird stuff to your appetite). On January 23 at 9:40 AM she took her first steps with her newly reinforced spine and that, my friends, is the exact moment I knew.
My daughter was unstoppable.
She’s even wearing a cape!
Now, this is a surgery that’s done quite a bit. Not as many result in rods as long as hers (they cover fourteen vertebrae from T2 down to L4), and not as many have that extra hour and a half in the OR, but it’s a surgery that happens about 10 times a year at this particular hospital and hundreds more times a year across North America. The expectation is the patient gets up and walking quickly, so that she can start healing. She needs to get her muscles moving again and begin to sort out how to live with her new body.
I have to tell you though, after seeing what she went through; after seeing how much pain she was in; after seeing her struggle to do something as trivial as roll onto her side in bed, or lift food to her mouth; after seeing how afraid she was; after seeing all that I saw something that I’d never seen in another person before. It was in her eyes, and it stopped me in my tracks. It was powerful, it was crystal clear, and it simply said this:
It wasn’t just that she was going to figure out how to walk. Of this there was never any doubt. It was the look in her eyes that said, “Nothing is going to stop me. Ever.“
And I believe her.
If you are interested, here’s a great animated short that explains what they do for the surgery: