Lessons for Leah and Dan

 

Shani’s cousin, Leah, and her husband, Dan, just had a baby. Hannah. Leah is universally adored by the NJ Nuckols and she is one of the most important people in Shani’s life. A few years ago, I wrote about Leah and Dan’s Jewish Hippie Wedding.

Well, it is with great love that I send this post. It is a list of some of the things we learned when Jack and Alex were newborns.

I learned about “The Aligator Effect.”

If you were in your living room, looked over, and saw an alligator sitting there – you’d freak out, right? “Holy shit! What’s a alligator doing in my living room?!”

After Jack was born, every couple of hours I’d look over and there was a baby sitting there.

“Holy shit! What’s that baby doing there? Whose baby is this?!?”

It’s nuts. It’s hard to believe it’s real. It’s the Alligator Effect.

I learned that breastfeeding is a bitch.

We had no clue. I thought you just stick a kid on there and they nurse. Well it’s not like that at all. We were struggling to get it working and we finally broke down and called in a “lactation consultant.” An hour later, this hippie-dippie lady shows up at our apartment and tells us we’ll be working in the bedroom. So the 3 of us go in there.

“Now, Daddy, I’m going to ask you sit there at the foot of the bed. Mommy, you go there and hold Baby with you. That’s right.”

Then this creepy hippie climbs right into the bed with us.

“Now, usually before we start, Mommy needs to have a good cry.”

This lady was nuts! I rolled the hell out of my eyes and started to shoot Shani a look of disdain – but then I notice: Shani is bawling! What the hell?

But in all seriousness, the hippie dippie lady was a huge help and a great call to bring her in. Totally got us in good shape.

Oh – sidenote about breastfeeding for Dad – don’t try out the breast pump. You will be tempted.

I tried it once when Shani was in the shower. She was always complaining about how it hurt, so I figured I’d see if it was really all that bad. I stuck the plastic cone over my nipple and flipped the switch.

Whirrr-whirrr-whirrrrrr

It was like a badger was locked onto my chest. This contraption had me in its vile clutches and was distorting my nipple to unthinkable proportions. I screamed in agony.

“Get it off! Get it off!”

I tumbled off the bed, wildly flapping my arms in panic trying to flip the switch to off.

Bad call.

I learned to get sleep any way you can.

I work in healthcare advertising. In fact, I worked at the agencies that coined the terms “GERD” and “erectile dysfunction.” But no one has ever come up with a better name for a medical condition that SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

With Jack I lived in mortal terror. Nothing was allowed in the crib that could smother him. And he had to be on his back. Whenever I got him to sleep in my arms, I’d carefully lay him down in the crib on his back.

And he’d wake up. Every time. But that’s what I had to do to keep the SIDS from getting him.

With Alex, we were way smarter. We were getting sleep any way we could. The boy would fall asleep on my chest and I’d build a throne of pillows to support me. I’d sleep sitting up with the boy right on me. That’s how we both slept for the first 6 weeks of his life.

Much better.

I learned you’ve gotta forgive each other quick.

You’re stressed out and so sleep deprived and at 3:45 AM when the baby wakes up you lash out.

“Goddammit! You did it wrong and now the baby’s awake!”

Making up from a fight for Shani and I used to be a long process. We’d talk it out and apologize and make concessions and agree to be friends again.

But with a baby, you don’t have time for all that crap. Then next morning, after we’d been unreasonable assholes to each other, we’d basically go:

“Hey, last night…”

“It’s fine. I get it.”

“Good. Thanks. Sorry.”

Not enough energy to hold a grudge, I guess.

I learned that Jack would stop crying if I went down the hall doing deep knee bends.

I learned how to avoid getting peed on.

I learned how awful and ragged that first three months can be from Jack.

I learned how to cherish those awful 3 months from Alex.

Maybe, above all, I learned that I could do it. And I have to believe that you guys will hit moments of hellish despair when you think there’s no way you can handle this. But you can and you will.

It is the most profound change you will ever go through. It is bigger that moving out of your parents’ house, bigger than leaving college, bigger than getting married. You are no longer Leah and Dan. Not anymore. First and foremost, you’re Hannah’s mom and dad. Your identity is fundamentally changed.

So it is with a heart full of love that I share this with the two of you. Welcome to parenthood. It has inflated my life with a dimension of joy I never imagined possible. I wish all of that and more for you and your newly-formed family.

Powder Keg (A short play in 4 scenes)

SCENE 1

INT. MIKE’S OFFICE – DAY

MIKE is working on his computer. He has been in the office since 5 AM, writing a website he had been putting off. Phone RINGS.

MIKE

      (Picking up and expecting a typical “good morning” call.)
Good morning!

SHANI

      (Scolding Mike for Jack’s actions.)
Jack isn’t eating his sandwiches. He throws them away.

MIKE

What?

SHANI

His candy is completely gone. The bag has 10 pieces left. He eats Pirate Booty and candy every day and throws his sandwich out. He’s been doing that since Halloween! His bag is nearly empty. The garbage is full of candy wrappers and he’s sneaking them up to his room too.

 

MIKE

Yeah.

SHANI

We had it out and he left so mad. I threw out his candy and I hid Alex’s bag too. I put it in the back basement. We’re back in a bad place.

 

MIKE

Shani, I…

 

SHANI

He had over 100 pieces of candy and some of them were…

 

MIKE

Look, Shani, I can’t do this now. I’ve got work.

 

SHANI

Some of them were full candy bars!

 

MIKE

OK, I gotta go…

 

Mike hangs up. His co-workers are shocked to see this.

 

MIKE

Don’t worry. It’s literally the only way to get off the phone with her.

 

 

SCENE 2

INT. FAMILY BASEMENT THAT NIGHT

Mike is setting up sleeping bags for ALEX and AIDEN. The boys have each had a soda at dinner and are frantically playing X-Box in the background and singing Adele’s “Hello” at the same time. Shani is standing on the steps.

 

SHANI

He’s up there watching Family Guy. Do you think that show is OK?

 

MIKE

You’ve asked me ten times in the last week. My answer hasn’t changed.

 

SHANI

       (going upstairs)
I’m doing some research.

 

Mike continues arranging sleeping bags.

 

SHANI

      (from top of stairs)
Come look at this.

 

MIKE

I’m down here. If you want me to look at your phone, you can bring it down.

 

SHANI

      (rumbles downstairs. Thrusts her phone into Mike’s hands)
Read!

 

MIKE

Oh. Yeah.

 

SHANI

I’m not comfortable with him watching that. Violence and sex. I don’t think it’s appropriate. You said it was OK.

 

MIKE

I’ve watched it. Seems on par with the Simpsons.

Shani goes upstairs.

 

SCENE 3

INT. UPSTAIRS BEDROOMS A FEW MINUTES LATER

Mike sticks his head into Jack’s room.

 

MIKE

Hey, are you…

 

JACK

      (sulking severely)
Get out.

 

MIKE

Um. OK.

 

Mike closes Jack’s door and goes into his own bedroom. He looks to the bed, expecting to see Shani.

 

SHANI

      (pouncing from behind a dresser)
He was watching that show. I took it away. And he’s mad. He’s so mad at me.

 

MIKE

I know.

 

SHANI

I don’t like it when he’s mad at me.

 

MIKE

I know.

 

SHANI

I’m mad at him. I’m mad at myself. I’m mad at you.

 

MIKE

You don’t have to get so emotional about it.

 

SHANI

You said that show was OK.

 

MIKE

Well, I did think it was OK.

 

SHANI

Have you watched it?

 

MIKE

Yeah.

 

SHANI

You don’t know what it’s like to be the bad guy. I’m always the bad guy.

 

MIKE

      (smugly grabbing the “superior parent” mantle)
I just don’t take it as hard as you do.

 

Shani gets on the computer, while Mike brushes his teeth and gets into bed.

 

SHANI

      (Getting on the computer)
Look. You can block shows on Netflix. I’m blocking it.

 

MIKE

Good.

 

SHANI

Look at this. I found Netflix history. It shows all the shows that have been watched on our account. He’s watched the first seven seasons of Family Guy!

 

MIKE

Really?

 

SHANI

He must have watched 100 shows.

 

MIKE

Good thing you put a stop to it.

 

After a bit, Shani goes to bed. Somehow it has become the same conditions as if Shani and Mike were in a fight. Shani goes to bed in silence.

 

 

SCENE 4

INT. SAME UPSTAIRS BEDROOMS — A LITTLE LATER

Mike looks at the clock. He decides he is going to handle Jack going to bed the way Shani should handle situations like Family Guy.

 

MIKE

       (yelling from his bed)
Jack! Brush your teeth please!

 

JACK

Inaudible mumble.

 

MIKE

      (yelling)
Jack, come on!

 

JACK

Inaudible mumble.

 

Mike gets up and goes to Jack’s room. Jack is at his desk, writing out incomprehensible statistics and rosters in a notebook.

 

MIKE

      (yelling)
Now!

 

Jack gets up and goes into the bathroom. A few minutes later, he goes back into his bedroom and SLAMS the door.

 

MIKE

Jack, you didn’t brush your teeth.

 

JACK

I did.

 

MIKE

You didn’t even turn the water on.

 

Jack gets up again and goes into the bathroom. There is SILENCE for a full minute.

 

MIKE

Jack, brush your teeth.

 

JACK

      (yelled with all his 7th grade rage)
I AM!

 

Sounds of TEETH BRUSHING. Jack returns into his room. Door SLAMS. Mike gets up and goes to Jack’s room. Jack is back at the desk, poring over his notebook.

 

MIKE

Jack – how about lights out. 11:00.

 

JACK

      (pathetic and near tears)
I just need some time to myself.

 

MIKE

      (tersely)
Fine. Stay up as late as you want.

 

Mike closes the door and goes back to his room. He checks to see if Shani is awake. He is relieved to find her asleep.

 

FADE OUT to the sound of Alex and Aiden singing “Hello”

About Streaking

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

My junior year of college, I wrote a play and got it produced by the student theater club. The play was 80 minutes of bad dialogue, but then at the end, one of the main characters commits suicide. It ends with two monologues that were really good. And suddenly everybody forgot the terrible 80 minutes and thought it was a great play. I had girls crying afterwards. People were hugging me and telling me how beautiful a writer I was. It worked out really well.

My friends from high school came up for opening night and we had a big party at my house. And as I celebrated the success of my “brilliant” play, I was on a high like I’d never felt before. At that party it felt like a tuning fork was in my chest ringing ringing ringing until I couldn’t stand it.

“Let’s go streaking!” I yelled. Chief was in. Spider was in. I was already moving for the door.

I burst out into the cold air and was tearing my clothes off. Chief was behind me and I vaguely heard Spider somewhere, but once your clothes start coming off, especially your pants, the last thing you want to do it stand and wait, you want to move move move and that’s what I was doing. I burst down the sidewalk, buck naked and howling with exhilaration. It felt like my entire skin was ablaze with icy fire. It felt like frantic lightning bugs were crawling all over me. I ran down the street at full speed and finally – finally – that tuning fork in my chest was ringing out as loud as I needed it to. Finally, I got my ya-yas out.

GOD it was awesome.

I wrote another play that next year, and this one was way better. It also had some moments of intense violence, which the audience mistook for excellent playwriting, and again I was heaped with praise.

Again there was a party that night. Again, I streaked. This time it was expected. Actually….as I reflect back I think I may have written that second play just so I could streak again.

It was a better streak too.

A diagram:

IMG_3236

This is the route of the first streak. It was short. It was a side street. Basically, the only people who saw me were the people who cam outside from the party.

Let’s compare that to Streak #2:

IMG_3238

Let me break it down for you.

  1. This route went right through the main street of a college town on a Friday night. The sidewalk and bars were packed with people.
  2. The black line is the route taken by my brother and my friend Reef (who streaked with me). They went right down the center of the street.
  3. The green line is the route I took. I was fat and in bad shape. I was panting for air by the time we reached the corner, so to cut my route short I went on the sidewalk. I ran right past people, slapping fives as I ran by. Until…
  4. The “X” is where I had to stop. I doubled over and panted, desperately trying to catch my wind back. That is until I heard someone yelling:”Hey! Hey! Hey, you ain’t got no clothes on!”

    In a panic, I took off running again.

And I’ll tell you – streaking is addictive. It’s a crazy high. I streaked downtown a few more times that spring. On graduation night we went and played 3 innings of naked wiffleball on the lawn of the college president’s house.

I moved to LA after college and one night I led a group of guys to put on ludicrous hats and streak the grocery store near my house.

I streaked a wedding reception a few years ago. I streaked a party in town just last summer.

And really, that’s the only point of this piece. I like streaking. I know a lot of other Donna G Project essays are sentimental and have deep meaning, this one really doesn’t. This is really just to let you guys know that I think streaking is fun as hell and I recommend it.

You get a crazy thrill, people FREAK out and tell you you’re a wild man – but you’re not doing anything harmful or dangerous at all. Honestly, I’m surprised it isn’t more common.

Plus, you’ll never run so fast in your life.

Streaking.

Oh yeah – 2 pieces of technical tips to wrap up.

  1. Stash your clothes somewhere safe. Some joker may try and hide them.

    1A. If some joker does hide your clothes, go RIGHT AT THEM. They think they have the upper hand because you’re naked – but really YOU have the upper hand because you’re naked. Go right for that him and he’ll BEG you to take your clothes back. Jokers can’t stand to be next to a naked man.

  2. This is by far the most important tip: Wear your shoes when you streak. Don’t do it in bare feet. That’s the big one.

Right.

Streaking.

Mike Nuckols: Social Liability

It was Parent Social Night this weekend. It means that each grade (K-5) hosts a party at a host house. You go from house to house and hang out with each grade. It’s a bitch of a night to get a baby sitter.

I struggle with this and basically all social events in my town. It aggravates Shani, who is an excellent mingler and genuinely enjoys it. She calls me a “social liability”, and each time we head out, I promise her to try and engage. And I genuinely try each and every time.

I’ll start with this: I find the small talk maddening. Talking about nothing drives me out of my mind. I resent every minute of it. The idea of spending 15 minutes talking to someone and then walking away knowing nothing whatsoever about them is mindboggling to me.

We arrived at the first party and instantly my heart sank. The house had a beautiful wrap-around porch. To the right, all the ladies had gathered. Off to the left, the guys were clumped around the beer.

The guy-girl split baffles me. I guess when you’re married and the girl thing is locked up, there’s no longer a need to talk to women. I guess we’re all relieved we don’t have to do that anymore.

I wandered over to the guys. They were all talking about the house that Chip Kelly (Eagles head coach) had just moved into. As I introduced myself, instead of saying my name, I mumbled:

“I’vegotapenishaveyougotapeniswannatalkaboutpenises?”

Then I stood and nodded along with the Chip Kelly discussion for the next 5 minutes.

After a while, I went and pretended to take a dump and played on my phone for 10 minutes. Then I wandered over towards Shani. She gave me the: “Don’t monopolize me” look. She was right. So I went to the food table and got into a conversation with a woman there. Her daughter and Alex are both divers. We talked about that. Then she said:

Nice woman: My daughter is in 6th grade and tonight is her first time at Rec Hall. [Note: Rec Hall is a junior high dance held at the school once a month.] I had 12 girls at my house beforehand.

Me: Oh yeah? Does your house smell like perfume?

Nice woman: No. Why?

Me: When they boys have a party before Rec Hall they create this horrible cloud of Axe body spray.

Nice woman: Really? Is that really an issue with boys? Body odor?

Me: Oh dear God, yes.

Nice woman: I know in health class they separate all the girls and boys for the puberty talk. I know what they talk about with the girls, but I wasn’t sure if they talked about body odor with boys.

Me: They should – my son smells terrible.

Ooooo-kay. So here I am. I’m in a conversation, right? I promised Shani I’d try and I was trying. And at this point I could stay on the surface – or – I could really go for it. So damn it – I went for it. If we’re gonna have a conversation, then I’m gonna have a real conversation. I went for it.

Me: The body odor is bad, but I’m not looking forward to what comes next?

Nice woman: Oh? What do you mean?

Me: Masturbating.

Nice woman: Oh. Ohh. Uh. Oh.

Me: Yeah, it’s funny. I was talking about that with some friends from high school. I was saying how terrified I used to be of getting busted by my mom. Then I realized…busting me was the last thing on earth she wanted to happen.

Nice woman: Oh. Yeah. Oh.

Me: [Pretending I’m my mom and stomping as I walk.] I’m coming [STOMP] up the [STOMP] stairs now!

Shani was in absolute hysterics as I told her about the conversation on the way home.

So if you’re wondering, here’s a guide to party conversation:

Do Don’t
 

Tell sports anecdotes about how you are guiding your kid through struggles and teaching them the value of sportsmanship and the larger life lesson.   (bonus if you use the phrase “teaching moment”)

 

Talk about your job. (I think this is because it somehow gets too close to touching on how much money you make and no one wants to admit they’re rich.)
 

Tell funny stories making fun of what a bad parent you are. (example: “I just put on the Disney channel, plunked them down in front of the TV, and opened a bottle of wine HAHAHAHAH!”)

 

Say anything nice about your wife. (For some reason you’re not supposed to like hanging out with your wife – thus you get away from each other as quickly as possible.)

And I now I know that I can add “talk about masturbating” to the don’t column.

However, with all that said, I have over the years found myself in some terrific conversations with people that to this day I love seeing and catching up with.

So if you see me at a party and you:

  • Want to sit down
  • Want to talk about something other than nothing

I’m in. So let me know. It’ll keep me in Shani’s good graces.

Parenting: Phase 2

So…I have been searching for relevance with NuckolBall.

  1. There is a lack of drama with my boys. Things are in a groove.
  2. I’ve taken a new job this past year, so work has occupied a bigger part of my energy and focus (and I’m not blogging about that).
  3. This MLB season has been a little boring – and to be honest, this site has never really been about baseball.

I will tell you that Jack’s fall season of little league has started. This past spring season Jack went hitless again and struggled pretty mightily, but I didn’t write about it. It seemed like the same story all over again and I’m a little over it.

This Friday night, his first at-bat of the fall season started with his trademark wishy-washy approach where he tries to draw a walk and takes shitty, late swings at the ball and strikes out looking. So I figured, “here we go again.” But then on his second at-bat he corked a shot past the 3rd baseman and flashed to first. He had another game Saturday morning where he got another hit and pitched a scoreless inning. Jack’s friend Max called him Sunday to ask if Jack could come over; I heard Jack on the phone:

“I got a hit, a walk, and struck out.”

There was a brightness in his voice. It was pretty great.

But that’s not what I want to write about at all. What was really notable about the weekend for me is what happened after the game. It happened quickly:

After the game, Jack and his friend Christopher decided to go downtown and get lunch and hang out. (Can I have some money, Dad?) Alex went to diving practice.

In a blink Shani and I were looking at a free afternoon. We stared at each other a little uncertain that it was real. But it didn’t take us long to take advantage.

We shot to the Farm and Fisherman and sat at the corner of the bar. We laughed about God knows what. We talked about how handsome we think Alex is becoming. We drank piney IPAs and shared the “breads and spreads” platter. Shani told me all about the book she’s reading. Man, we had a great time.

And it occurs to me: Is this our future? Is this the next phase? Beers and snacky dinners at 3:30 PM? In bed by 10:15 on a Saturday?

More and more we are finding ourselves kidless and staring at each other, saying: “I guess it’s just us.”

About 5 years ago Shani and I got into a big fight. I don’t know the exact cause, but really it was a product of taking each other for granted in the midst of managing the kids. It’s easy to lose each other among the bed times and play dates, and we had to some degree. It had come to a boiling point.

“Look man,” she said to me. “There’s gonna come a day when these boys leave us, so you and I have to be right!”

It ended in a pretty desperate hug in the kitchen and I remember saying in a choked-up and murky voice:

“When I picture heaven, it’s being with you forever. You know that, right? That’s what I want heaven to be. With you.”

I’m getting a little choked up writing about that, actually. But this weekend at the Farm and Fisherman made me think about that fight. Above all, it brought me to a big realization:

I believe Shani and I are have reached a new place in our life as parents. I wrote a blog post about a year ago called In Transition about the pain of entering it. But now we’re through the transition. We’re there. Our kids are driving their own agendas. They don’t want me as a playmate anymore; they want to call their friends and do their own thing. They don’t need me to put them to bed. We can leave them home alone without even thinking about it. Parenting isn’t the all-encompassing effort it once was. It’s not priority #1 the way it used to be.

More and more Shani and I are able to step out to grab a beer together or have dinner by ourselves.

So…

I am officially declaring that we have entered a new place in parenthood. It opens up a new range of topics and considerations for NuckolBall posts (I’ve updated the site look to commemorate it).

Parenthood: Phase 2 is here.

It feels weird, but I’m getting used to it. Get ready for a new ride.

3 Keys to Success at Work

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

OK, now for part 2. Follow these 3 steps and you will dominate at work. People will scheme and beg to get you onto their team. People who go to other companies will try and recruit you.

For starters, all the wisdom I am about to impart upon you is based on The Fundamental Truth:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

Remember it. Learn it. Accept it. It is the key.

Key to Work Success #1: Do the reading

Before a project begins, they usually send out a whole mess of background materials. My experience is that nobody reads it.

You should. Here’s why:

It immediately makes you the expert. You may be the least experienced person in the room, but if you suddenly start quoting facts and referring to points in the reading, suddenly everyone takes notice. And you know why…because with you around it means they don’t have to do the reading. Now you’re the guy everyone needs to have in every meeting. You’re the guy they want at the presentation in case there are any questions.

People are lazy. They don’t want to read all that crap. They want to pretend like they did it. And when they have a team member who digs in and knows the background, they want that person around.

Look, it’s gonna take you a couple hours at the most. Spend the time. Highlight key facts. Underline stuff. Look things up that you don’t know.

Do the reading.

Key to Work Success #2: Be great at receiving work

Imagine you’re a manager. Your job is to go around and assign tasks to people. And here’s where The Fundamental Truth comes in big time.

“I already have so much on my plate.”

“You gave me that proposal just yesterday.”

“I’m not sure I would know how to handle it properly?”

“What’s the deadline? Are you serious?”

Managing people is getting people to do stuff that they are trying to avoid. They bitch about it. They whine. They wheedle and negotiate and make excuses. And a manager has to pet them and threaten them and be nice to them – all to get them to just do their goddam job. Hell, sometimes it’s such a pain in the ass, managers just do the work themselves to avoid the headache.

So now a manager comes to you, asks you to take on a task, and you say:

“That sounds fun! I’d love to do that. Thanks! When do you need it?”

Imagine how great that will feel for your manager. Instantly your boss will be telling everyone what a great addition you are to the team. People will be trying to get you on committees and task forces. Your boss will start confiding in you, because unlike everyone else on the team, you’re not a source of stress.

Oh, and get this…if you do all this, all the time, when you do say you have too much to handle, your boss will actually believe you.

When someone gives you a task at work, act like they just gave you a present. Trust me, you’ll shoot up the ladder in record time.

Key to Work Success #3: Bring 2 ideas to the meeting

Corporate America is full of brainstorms. You’ll get into that meeting room and the meeting organizer will lay down some corporate-speak:

“I just got this proposal that’s due next week and I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to get creative and come up with some out-of-the-box ideas.”

Translation:

“I haven’t spent any time thinking about this assignment so I want you all to figure it out for me and then do a lot of the work. Go.”

Now for the most part, everyone around the conference table just showed up because the meeting was on their calendar. They barely read the invitation.

Here’s where you come in. Before the meeting ever starts, read the invitation, find out what the meeting organizer is looking for, and come into that meeting with 2 good ideas. When the meeting starts, everyone is looking at each other and wishing they weren’t there – that’s when you jump in.

“Well, I did a little thinking about this beforehand. How about this…”

Suddenly, the meeting organizer is thinking: “Holy shit! I gotta invite this guy to all my brainstorms!” Everyone there will be thinking that. You look like a total go-getter, all because you spent 15 minutes thinking of a couple ideas.

Oh and by the way, everyone will want you on their team and in their meetings because they know you’re gonna do their work for them.

2 ideas. That’s it. Bring ’em.

Now – one final point to make about all 3 of the keys to success: they will SAVE you work. Sure, they’ll get you promoted and paid better, but in the long run they will actually save you time. Trust me.

So there you have it. Now go succeed. It’s easy.

The 2 Keys to Happiness at Work

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

First and foremost, we will clearly lay out The Fundamental Truth when it comes to work:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

Let me say it again:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

That is THE Fundamental Truth, and people are brilliant at achieving this goal.

“I’d love to help out, but…”

“I’m not confident I’ll do it right without proper guidance.”

“If you ask, I’m there, but on one asked.”

The energy, planning, strategy, and creativity that goes into achieving this goal is mindboggling.

OK, so now I’m gonna blow your mind with this next fact:

The vast majority of people are not happy or satisfied with their job.

Are you seeing a correlation? Any bells ringing? Because this fact and The Fundamental Truth are directly related.

Think of it this way: if you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at a job that you are actively trying to avoid, by definition you will resent it. You don’t want to be there. You’re just trying to get out of there. You’re doing as little as possible. You don’t value it one bit.

Of course you’re miserable. You’re spending the majority of your waking time doing something that gives you zero satisfaction. You are wasting most of your time. You are wasting your life.

And all of this brings me to the first key to happiness…

Key to Work Happiness #1: Do a Kick Ass Job

Whatever your job, nail it. Dominate it. Attack it.

If your job is washing dishes*, get those dishes clean and then go scrub out the pots and pans. Organize the store room. Wipe down the counters. Hose down the air filters.

Look, you’re there for 8-hour shift, right? Avoid your job like most people do and you’ll walk out of there saying: “Finally, I can get out of there and start doing something I value!” Kick ass at that job and you’ll walk out of there saying: “I’m glad that’s over, but I sure kicked ass in there.” It makes all the difference in the world.

You are going to have to have a job for most of your life. My recommendation is that you avoid the trap of The Fundamental Truth and kick ass at your job.

Key to Work Happiness #2: Don’t Rush Into a Career

There is a TON of pressure to have a career. This starts very early.

“What major are you considering?”

“What colleges are you looking at?”

“What’s your plan after you graduate?”

Older people, especially the ones who care about you, want to feel like you’re OK. We worry about you. We’re invested in you. We want to be able to say: “He has a job in a big company. He’s doing well.” That brings us great comfort. That means you have an income. You have health insurance. You’re on the path to home and wife and kids and stability. It makes us feel like you’re safe and that we’ve done a good job.

I am sure you will get that pressure-vibe from me. You’ll get it from your mother too. Anyone who cares about you will be subtly pushing you into the safe haven of a career.

But I’m here to tell you – don’t rush it. Don’t succumb to that subtle gravity. Because it may not feel like it, BUT A CAREER WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. Corporate America is dying for young, responsible, competent people (think back to The Fundamental Truth). It will feel like the opportunity to get into a good company is rare and has to be taken. But those opportunities are honestly a dime a dozen. Those opportunities will come again and again and again. Those opportunities will come agains and again and again. (Plus with my next entry – 3 Keys to Success at Work – you will absolutely rocket through any organization and blast up the ranks.)

Look, when I was 23 I had a great job. But then I quit. People thought I was crazy. My parents were all a-flutter. But I quit and spent a year living in my car and driving around the US.

Want to know what the consequences were to my career path?

Nada.

I came back and in 6 months was right back into a secure job.

A few years later, I quit AGAIN. This time I spent a year travelling the world with your mother.

Oh, but wait, there must have been consequences of that rash action, right?

Wrong.

Once again, there were no consequences. I came back and in about a month I dove right back into the world of security and career. And here I am now – good job, house, kids, wife, whatever.

And get this – looking back – imagine the consequences if I had NOT quit my job. What would have happened if I had made a career my primary focus?

I wouldn’t have backpacked through that meadow in Washington that was so beautiful I prayed to God thanking Him for giving my eyes.

I wouldn’t have been on that boat in Thailand where that Japanese guy barfed on me.

I wouldn’t have trekked the Himalayas. I wouldn’t know what kava tastes like. I wouldn’t have heard the call to prayer in Morocco. I wouldn’t have gotten that God-awful haircut in Des Moines. I wouldn’t have spent my first wedding anniversary with your mother listening to a Vivaldi concert in a gothic cathedral in Paris.

In other words, the consequences would have been devastating. The career would have been the same.

A career will always be there. There is plenty of time to fall in step and gain stability – a stability I find wonderful. But the time to wander and explore and wonder and soar? That time, my sons, is limited.

So trust me, do not rush into a career.

Stay tuned! The second part: 3 Keys to Success at Work is coming soon!

*Note about the example of being a dishwasher. In many cases, that is a hypothetical example. That is not the case for me.

Backpacker Battle Royale: Many photos and 1 video

Location: The Appalachian Trail

Distance: 6.5 miles to the Kirkridge Shelter and then back the next day

Elevation: 1549 feet

The competitors: Alex and Mike

The question: Who will come out as the superior backpacker?

Your narrator: Mike Nuckols

The Face-off Begins
The Face-off Begins

Category 1: Pacing Yourself

For better or worse, I approach life as a to-do list. Whether it’s eating a meal or doing my Christmas shopping, I go full force towards my goal until I collapse. Backpacking is no different.

But Alex takes breaks. A lot of them. Whenever he says, “let’s rest at the next rock,” I find myself thinking: “Come on! Let’s keep pushing!” But then I rest and find that I needed a break as well. We’ll sit on a nice rock, eat some trail mix, and chatter away. Plus we see some cool stuff while we’re hanging out.

That’s really the way to do it, and if it weren’t for Alex I would push through the entire 6.5 miles – only stopping when I’m ready to drop.

Break
Break time
Break time. Again.
Break time. Again.
And another break.
And another break.
Walking stick (spotted during a break)
Walking stick (spotted during a break)
Spotted during a break
Centipede (spotted during a break)

Advantage: Alex

Category 2: Eating habits

Shani has imparted terrific eating habits on my boys. They eat until they’re full and then they stop.

On the other hand, I generally eat like I’m headed to the electric chair. I never stop until my plate is clean. I never stop when I’m full. I stop when I’m stuffed. This is usually a bad thing – unless you’re burning through 5-6 thousand calories a day.

At camp breakfast, Alex didn’t finish his oatmeal and just nibbled a few dried apples. We got a half mile before the boy bonked. We had to sit for 30 minutes while he devoured half a pound of trail mix and a pound of dried cherries.

Not enough breakfast.
Not enough breakfast.
Our boy is bonked.
Our boy is bonked.

Advantage: Mike

Category 3: Being comfortable around “freaky weird people”

Shelters on the AT are first-come first-serve. Last year we had the shelter to ourselves. When I told Alex we might have to share it this time, he told me:

“I am NOT staying with freaky weird people!”

When we reached the shelter there were 3 guys from Virginia who were trekking from New Jersey to North Carolina. Alex and I set up a tent at a clearing nearby. After our tent was set up, we went to the shelter to cook hot dogs over the fire, but it started pouring rain. Minutes later, 4 local high-school kids (total hippies) rushed in from their campsite in a nearby field. We were all huddled under the shelter as the storm passed.

“Smell that, Alex?”

“Yes.”

“That’s marijuana.”

“Really?”

“Does it make you want to try it?”

“No.”

Hillbillies and Hippies
Hillbillies and Hippies (hard to see)

Advantage: Mike

Category 4: Going Shirtless

So it was hot. Hot and humid as hell. So Alex decided to pack shirtless – and eventually, so did I.

Alex is CUT. He swims an hour a day and dives an hour a day. Me, I cut a very different form. Thank God there weren’t a lot of ladies along the trail who would have lost control at the sight of my daddy abs.

Shot of Alex packing shirtless.
Shot of Alex packing shirtless.
Censored to protect women from too much lust.
Shot of Mike has been censored to protect women from too much lust.

Advantage: Alex

Category 5: Telling the people we love how we feel about them

We got into great conversations on the trail and at the campsite.

  • Alex described how he felt about his friends. “What I like about my grade is that no one is really popular. Everyone is the same and we’re all friends.”
  • He ranked every type of dried fruit he’d ever eaten. “And cherries are the best, of course.”
  • He went through the entire Egyptian creation mythos. “Then Set tempted him into a coffin and then connected him with the underworld.”

But at least once an hour, one of us would just blurt out: “I’m having so much fun – I love you so much! Thanks for doing this.”

We got into a long conversation about telling people that we love them. I’m really good at this (sometimes to the point where it becomes uncomfortable). Alex is also good about it. Although he doesn’t say it to Jack “because that wouldn’t be brotherly.”

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Advantage: TIE

Category 6: How to date Taylor Swift

It was a 2-hour car ride to get to the trailhead and 2 hours back the next day. Alex had Taylor Swift albums loaded up and we listened to them the entire time while he sang along in the back seat.

He told me, at length, what the expectations were for dating Taylor Swift. In fact, he let me know: “If you don’t get at least 2 songs written about you, that’s a fail.”

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Advantage: Alex

Who won? You decide.

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End of the road

Here are a few more photos.

First overlook of the Delaware Water Gap
First overlook of the Delaware Water Gap
Sweaty boys climbing Mount Minsi
Sweaty boys climbing Mount Minsi
Made it to the top (took FOREVER)
Made it to the top (took FOREVER)
Setting up the tent
Setting up the tent

Hanging in the tent.

We were tired as hell, but talked for 2 hours before we fell asleep. "It's like a sleepover," said Alex.
We were tired as hell, but talked for 2 hours before we fell asleep. “It’s like a sleepover,” said Alex.
Overlook.
Overlook.
Happy.
Happy.
Victory burgers.
Victory burgers.

Finally…the video. This is at Eureka Springs. We had run out of water 2 miles earlier. We stopped here for 30 minutes, filled up on water, waded in the cool water. A terrific stop.

And because I love you (see what I did there?) – a bonus video. I give you…the chicken walk.

To Balk or not to Balk

So…when it comes to 9-and-under boys diving in South Jersey, Alex dominates. In fact, for the past 2 years he has come in first in every single event he’s entered.

Except one.

These may be may favorite photos of all time:

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Last year, Alex placed 4th in the 3-meter championships. As you can see, he was not happy with the results.

Now…to make proper excuses, our pool does not have a 3-meter board, so Alex had only 2 practices at that height all summer. I’m certain the kids who placed ahead of him belonged to pools that had a 3-meter board.

This year is different. First off, Alex took dive lessons over the winter that included work on a 3-meter. Second, Alex had at least 6 practices this summer on a 3-meter board. But there is a downside to all that training.

Alex was lined up to do:

  • Forward dive tuck (degree of difficulty – 1.4)
  • Inward reverse tuck (degree of difficulty – 1.3)
  • Reverse dive tuck (degree of difficulty – 1.8)
  • Reverse somersault (degree of difficulty – 1.7) Also known as the “reverse sommy
  • Forward one and a half (degree of difficulty – 1.5)

The degree of difficulty (DD) is a major factor in your total score. Whatever scores the judges give you is multiplied by your DD. Alex’s dives were at a much higher DD than any other diver, which gave him a tremendous advantage. It means that even with average scores, Alex will crush every other diver.

Which meant that realistically, there are only 2 ways Alex could lose.

The first issue is Alex’s kryptonite. But Shani made sure we took care of that.

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So with that out of the way, it came down to the real threat: the balk.

Think back to when you were a kid and think back to jumping off the high dive. Think about how that felt. Getting up there and looking down at the water. That tingle in your belly as you psyched yourself up to jump. Were you scared? I sure was.

Ok, so now imagine getting up there to do a flip. Scarier? How about a back flip? Crazy, right? Well, how about you go off the board forward, and at the same time throw yourself into a back flip?

That’s the reverse sommy, and I can tell you that Alex has only once done it without balking. A balk is when you hesitate once you start your approach to the dive. If you balk, you get no points for your dive.

If Alex balked on the reverse sommy – zero points – and we’ve got a sad face again. It was his 4th dive. So here we go.

  • First dive – nice. Scored 4s and 5s.
  • Second dive – nice. 4s and 5s.
  • Third dive – gorgeous – and this with a 1.8 DD.

But then came the reverse sommy, and here’s where it gets heartbreaking. As a parent, it’s hard to figure out how to handle when your kid doesn’t succeed. And you can say all the right words about bravery and doing your best…but they don’t care. You’ve got devastation on your hands. I’m never sure how to handle…

Awww…I’m just messing with you. Alex nailed it.

No sign of a balk at all. And check this out…here’s dive #5.

And finally…here’s Alex on the winner’s podium. First place.

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Final note: Check out that kid to the right. That kid came in second – and a week from Saturday, he will go up against Alex in the 1-meter championships. He’s a gorgeous diver and such a sweet kid.

With any luck, the little shit will break his ankle over the next 10 days.

Written with Guilt

I was in San Francisco for work this week (and hit a Giants game). I had dinner with one of my best friends, Reef. Reef asked me how things were going and I went into Jack going to camp and how good I thought it was because he’s been dealing with social pressure and blah blah blah.

So Reef says to me:

“It’s funny how much more you talk about Jack than you do about Alex.”

Pow. Leveled me. It was one of those observations that:

  • You were completely unaware of
  • Gets you right between the eyes because its so undeniably dead on

Actually, Reef has a talent for that kind of observation. Especially when he’s on drugs. But to stay on subject…

I stammered a bit and then launched into an hour monologue all about Alex to assuage my guilt. But I also pointed out a few things:

  1. Jack provides more drama. Every stage is new to me, so I’m more scared of it. I don’t know how to handle it. And more drama means a better story.
  2. Alex is just easier. He’s good at everything; everyone adores him.

In all honesty, Alex is the font of happiness for the whole family. Jack’s becoming a pre-teen, which means he slams his door and rants with indignation when we don’t believe him when he says he scrubbed his armpits when he took a shower, even though he reeks of BO and is obviously lying.

Shani reacts fantastically to whatever emotion Jack is feeling. Those two are like voodoo dolls of each other. If Jack is sulking, Shani starts sulking as well. When Jack gets angry, she matches him with equal rage.

Me, I’ve started a new job that is infinitely harder than my old job. I’m constantly distracted and less in the moment than I should be.

Then there’s Alex. He goes to diving practice and chatters away with all the kids at the pool. He’s invited to play with a different friend each day. He reads. He brushes his teeth. He goes to bed without a fight. He sleeps late. His armpits don’t stink yet.

He’s happy.

Sometimes I feel like I’m using him to cheer myself up. I’ll lie down next to him on the couch and he’ll wrap his arms around my head and say, “I love you so much, you’re the best daddy, mmmmmm.”

If I could bottle those snuggles and sell them I’d put every therapist in the world out of business overnight.

So I feel bad about the fact that I talk more and write more about Jack.

But don’t worry…I know just how to cheer myself up.

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