Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Don't Trust Teenagers Who Sell Stuff

Back in February, Caroline and I moved into our first house. It's a rented house, but we are living in it, so technically, it's our first house. Anyway, I really warmed to the whole idea of living in a neighborhood in the suburbs. In fact, as we were still unpacking our boxes, we heard a recorded jingly noise coming from outside. I looked out the window to see an ice cream truck driving down the street! In February!

I looked at Caroline and yelled, "ICE CREAM MAN!" I dropped the box I had been carrying, and we both sprinted out into the street to meet the truck and purchase an ice cream sandwich. It was euphoric.

A few weeks later, as I was getting used to living in the 'burbs, a high school girl knocked on our door. She was selling magazine subscriptions for her school's student council program, and everyone who raised a specific amount of money would be allowed to go on the end-of-the-year trip to Washington, D.C. I wanted to be a good neighbor (even though I don't think she technically lived in my neighborhood), so I agreed to buy a subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine. I read Rolling Stone anyway, and a subscription would save me from having to buy my magazines on the newsstand. I wrote her a check. That was back in February, and I have yet to find one issue of Rolling Stone in my mailbox.

Okay, so I was a sucker one time. That couldn't happen again, right?

So, a few months ago, some high school-aged soccer players cornered Caroline and me in our driveway as we were leaving. They seemed like really nice guys, and they were selling magazine subscriptions. They said that if they sold enough subscriptions, their team would be given the opportunity to go to Spain and play teams internationally. I'm all about helping youth sports programs (or at least I felt that way at the moment), so Caroline and I both ordered magazine subscriptions from them. Caroline ordered a Rachel Ray magazine (which she has subsequently begun to receive), and I ordered Paste Magazine. Not only have I not received any issues of Paste, but I have begun receiving copies of Elle Magazine instead.

So, ladies and gentlemen, here is my conclusion. I am never again helping another high school aged con artist claiming to sell magazines. If they've got cookies that I can see and touch, I'll buy a box. I may even purchase the occasional coupon book if I feel so inclined. But if you or anyone you know is knocking on my door with a piece of paper boasting a list of magazines, move on. I'm not interested. I've been burned too many times, and I cannot bear the thought of what I may or may not find in my mailbox the next time I try to be nice to some kid who wants to go on a field trip. Modern Bride? O? Southern Living? No thanks, neighbor kids. Take your snake oil elsewhere. I'm wise to your schemes.

Now excuse me. I have to go see if the newest issue of Elle has arrived...

Monday, November 30, 2009


A few years ago, I heard about this thing called "National Novel Writing Month" or "NaNoWriMo" for short. It's exactly what it sounds like. During the month of November, you are supposed to write a complete first draft of a full novel (minimum of 50,000) words. I have been wanting to try this for years, but this year I finally did. I completed my novel in 23 days with a total of 59,609 words. It's a far cry from Catcher in the Rye, but it's really just about the experience.

This month (December), I am embarking on something different. Instead of writing a ton, my goal will be to read an excessive amount (an exercise in hyper-literacy, as it were). At the beginning of the new year, I will be attending a workshop for preachers in which we will discuss the links between literature, poetry, storytelling, and the sermon. One of the requirements for attending said workshop is that I have to read all of the books on the assigned list. Therefore, over the next month, I will attempt to read all of the following books:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (455 pages)
Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen (179 pages)
God Stories by C. Michael Curtis (394 pages)
Salvation On Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington (249 pages)
Silence by Shusaku Endo (201 pages)
Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner (320 pages)
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (271 pages)
Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (161 pages)
Not the Way It's Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (199 pages)

Total page number: 2,429
Total completed so far: 4


Even as I type this, my eyes are getting tired.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Baby Swag

I was standing in line at Starbucks in Waco this morning when one of the Hebrew professors from my seminary stepped in line behind me. He was pushing his 11 month old daughter in her stroller. I could have started a conversation with him regarding any number of topics. For example: "How is your semester going?" or "Any big plans for Thanksgiving?" or even, "How 'bout them Bears?" But no. The first thing I said to the professor was this:

"That's a really nice stroller."

First of all, I should say that I was not trying to be polite. The stroller was amazing. The Hebrew professor immediately agreed with me. "Thanks!" He said. He then pointed to the seat in which his daughter sat and spun his finger around in a circle. "I can make this go all the way around and face any direction."

"Wow," I said, "just like the stage at the U2 concert."

"Exactly!" He said.

This is the time we live in. A new father can have a conversation about his stroller and effortlessly respond to a reference to U2.

"It's even got cup holders!" I said.

"Yeah," he admired his stroller. "It's pretty handy."

"Sir?" the barista said to me. "Are you ready to order?"

I absentmindedly ordered my coffee and returned to our conversation about the stroller. I continued to ask him stroller-related questions until I received my beverage and exited Starbucks. As I walked toward my first class, I thought to myself: "Did I really just have full conversation about nothing but strollers?"

Yes, I did.

There is so much stuff that comes with a baby. Caroline and I went to Babies-R-Us last night to pick up our crib. We ordered it a week and a half ago, but it just arrived yesterday. As I stood at the guest services desk waiting for someone to bring the crib to the front, I stared around the store in awe. There are so many things you can get when you have a baby.

It kind of reminds me of Mr. Potato Head. You can just get the basic Mr. Potato Head set with one pair of eyes, ears, mouth, feet, nose, and hat. However, there are endless accessories for Mr. Potato Head. You can buy stuff to make Mr. Potato Head be a police officer or a fireman or a Star Wars Storm Trooper. You can buy Bath Time Mr. Potato Head gear.

This, in my mind, is what it is to have a baby. If you wanted to keep it simple, you could just have the baby and let it sleep in a box with a soft blanket. But this wouldn't be fun for anybody. So, you buy a crib. Then, of course, you're going to need to take the baby places, so you need a car seat (in observance of safety laws) and a stroller, of which I have already admitted to being an admirer. There are also endless types of toys and safety devices and sanitary equipment and clothes and furniture. And at some point, there may even be another kid, which is the parental version of buying a Mrs. Potato Head.

I'm learning about the baby swag, and I'm realizing how quickly my home and my life are going to be transitioned to total and absolute submission to the needs of this kid. Like Alice discovering all of the intricacies of Wonderland, I am learning all about a world that was completely foreign to me until very recently.

By the way, if you were wondering, the stroller that Truett Seminary's Hebrew professor uses is the Orbit Infant Stroller System. Do not buy us this stroller. Caroline has registered for a very specific stroller, and I don't want this blog to inspire anyone to subvert the registry.

I'm just saying it's a freaking cool stroller.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Failure Journal Entry #1: Sports

Last weekend, I spoke at the middle school ministry at our church. I was asked to speak about failure and how to experience it without letting it demoralize you or define you. I only had a couple of days to prepare, but I found myself filtering through more stories and illustrations than I could possibly use in a twenty minute talk. I realized how much I have experienced and learned from failure in my own life. So, I decided that I would begin journaling all of my so-called failures and what I have learned as a result. Our struggles and failures can shape us in ways that nothing else can. Also, I felt that if every time I fail, I can simply say, "Okay, well, at least I've got something new to blog about," it makes for a less traumatic experience. And since this blog is specifically designed for the experimental nature of life, I'm going to post my failure journal entries here. I'll still be primarily blogging about the baby and how that's going, but I thought this would be a good side project. So, without further ado...

It seems like the most natural place to begin in my journal of failure would be my earliest experience with it; namely, the arena of sports.

I have never been a good athlete. I wasn't even good at tee ball. When I was in little league (when they stopped letting us put the ball on the tee), I don't think I ever once got on base. I was afraid of the ball. I was afraid that the pitcher's accuracy was not reliable enough to be standing so close to where he was throwing. So, I became that kid who, if the ball comes anywhere near him, will duck and move away. If you had no idea where the ball was going but could only watch my body language, it would look like every ball was being thrown right at my head. When our team would win, which it often would, I even felt guilty about partaking in the post-game celebrations. I had literally done nothing to help us win. Unless the coach found it essential to have one kid standing in right field with his glove over his face looking at the sun through the cracks in the leather stitching.

This continued all through elementary school and into junior high. I very badly wanted to be good at basketball. I even spent two summers going to basketball camp. This did nothing except help me learn names of various drills that I wasn't any good at executing. Nevertheless, I kept trying.

During my eighth grade year, I was on the junior high basketball team. This was not an accomplishment. Our town and school were so small that there was no system for try-outs to be on a sports team. In fact, you were required (that's right, required) to be on a sports team. There was even an hour of the school day dedicated to forcing each and every junior high student to experience the joy of organized sports. So, there I was on the basketball team. My uniform staying clean and shiny all season long.

Despite my lack of athletic ability, the basketball coach seemed to like me. He was a really nice guy. I was doing well in his creative writing class (the only class in my entire career as a student before college that I genuinely enjoyed), and he was always really nice to me and my friends.

One night, we were playing an away game in a little town called Lookeba. I was sitting on the bench as usual. I was way down at the end of the bench, which allowed me to carry on conversations with my friends without the coach realizing that we were not paying attention to the game. Then, out of nowhere, Coach said my name. "Hey Rob!" He said. "Come here."

Of course, anyone who has ever played organized ball knows that when the coach says your name, you are about to be put in the game. I was about to play. I couldn't believe it. Maybe he had finally seen my hidden talent. I hustled over to the end of the bench where Coach was sitting (that's how you move when you're wearing a sports uniform; you "hustle").

"Move over," Coach said to the kid sitting next to him. When the spot next to him on the bench had been cleared, Coach gestured at me and said, "Sit down." I spent the next few minutes sitting next to the coach with my eyes glued to the basketball court pretending like I had been paying attention to the game the whole time. I wanted Coach to look at me and think to himself, "This kid is focused. He's got the eye of the tiger. He's ready to go out there and win this game for us." Of course, I was silently trying to remember the name of the team we were playing.

We sat watching the game for a few minutes. I kept waiting for Coach to lean over to me and share his game plan with me and tell me how he wanted me to execute it. Did he want me to guard that slow kid? Did he want me to shoot? Probably not. I was getting curious. Also, hadn't I been sitting on this bench for a while longer than normal? Usually when Coach would call someone to come and sit next to him, he would talk to them for a second or two and tell them that they could go in at the next time out. He had been quiet for longer than usual.

"Coach," I said tentatively. "Did you want me to go in?"

"Nah," he said absentmindedly. "Just keep me company."

I then realized what had happened. The kid who had previously been sitting next to the coach was, by every account, a really chatty and obnoxious seventh grader. He had been sitting next to the coach for the entire first half of the game, and had probably not stopped talking the whole time. Coach had looked down the bench and asked himself, "Who on this team is less annoying to me than this kid sitting here right now?" He picked me.

In the most bizarre way, I felt flattered. While I really wished I was good at basketball, I would almost prefer to be personally liked by the coach. I'm sure a lot of eighth grade boys in that situation would have been embarrassed, but I wasn't. The next day at school, I told this story to everyone. Not only was it funny, it was kind of cool. How many non-athletic kids are well-liked by the basketball coach?

So, my sports career was not filled with glory or trophies. The best I ever did at any sport was at Cross-Country. I wasn't necessarily fast, but I could run for a long time without needing to stop. When you grow up in a small town and you are bad at sports, this becomes a pretty valuable skill. During 9th grade, I ran Cross-Country and placed in a couple of tournaments. I loved the feeling of being good at a sport. However, it was Cross-Country, which means nobody watches the meets and you have to get up at five in the morning on Saturdays. I did not join the team for the following season. By the time I got to high school, there were other options besides sports, and I intended to take them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


A few days ago, we met with a doula. What is a doula, you ask? Okay, maybe you didn't ask, but I did. As it turns out, there is a whole profession (non-medical) dedicated to assisting couples in preparing for and carrying out the birthing process. I understand that there are endless tasks and responsibilities that a doula might provide, so please don't start posting your smarty-pants comments telling me that I clearly don't understand what a doula really does. I already know this, and I don't need the internet to empower people to tell me about it. Basically, what this doula is going to do for us (as far as I can tell) is be a mediator between the doctors and us during the delivery process. We are working on a birth plan (another new term for me), and the doula's role is to help us to execute the plan that we set in place.

I'm realize how little I know or understand. Having friends with kids has done nothing to prepare me for all of this. It's almost like we are the first people in the history of civilization to ever have a kid. Does parenthood come with a bonus supply of narcissism?

Speaking of knowing nothing, we had a real scare last week. We were going to the U2 concert in Arlington. I had heard that parking was ridiculously expensive at the new Cowboys Stadium, so I had been trying to figure out how to save a little money. On the day of the show, I heard about this really cheap parking area where you had to reserve your space in advance. So, I went online, and I reserved us a parking space for a third of the price that was being charged at the stadium. However, when we arrived at our pre-paid parking spot, we realized it was over a mile away from the stadium. Of course, my mind does not immediately think, "My wife is pregnant. I need a new plan." Instead, I thought, "We've walked farther than this before. We once walked halfway up the island of Manhattan! We can make it a mile." This was a mistake.

We made the walk, and Caroline was a champ the whole time. I know she was uncomfortable, but she held it together. As soon as we finally arrived at the stadium, I needed to find a restroom. When I rejoined my wife, she had a look of panic like I have never seen before. "Something's wrong," she said.

I'd like to think that I am calm under pressure, but I panicked. I froze. I had no idea what to do. She called her mom, who offered to come to the stadium to pick us up to take us to the emergency room. We left the stadium as the lights were going down and the opening band was beginning to play.

As we were standing on the corner anxiously waiting for my in-laws to find us, I heard someone near me utter under his breath, "Anybody got tickets?"

I'm not proud of this part, but I immediately realized that I could probably sell these U2 tickets and maybe make a little bit of money. Caroline was on the phone with her dad. I tried to be cool. I looked back at the roaming scalper and flashed him my tickets as if to say, "Excuse me. My wife's internal organs may be shutting down right now, but is there any way you could give me twenty bucks for these tickets? I'm not going to use them." We conducted our business quickly, and soon after, my father-in-law's car appeared.

We went directly to Arlington Memorial Hospital. As it turns out, the way to skip the line in a crowded ER is to simply say to the nurse, "Excuse me, my wife is pregnant, and we think something may be wrong." We didn't even get a chance to sit down. They instantly whisked us to the maternity ward.

After a few hours of tests, it was determined that everything was fine. Everyone has deducted that the symptoms of problems were directly a result of the hike from our parking space to the stadium. If this is true, it is perhaps the greatest of ironies. In my attempt to save a few bucks on parking, I lost almost the entire value of two U2 concert tickets.

My bad.

I'll bet the doula would have had some very harsh words for me.

Just so you know the end of the whole story, everything is perfectly fine. Caroline is healthy. The baby is healthy. We even went to Oklahoma City (Norman, really) to see U2 a few nights later. I actually got better and cheaper seats at this show than I had at the one in Arlington.


U2 Setlist from October 18, 2009 in Norman, OK:

Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/Stand By Me
Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
No Line On The Horizon
In A Little While
Unknown Caller
Until the End of the World
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On

(Encore #1)
Where the Streets Have No Names

(Encore #2)
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender

Saturday, October 10, 2009

When I Was Your Age: Time and Television

We have come up with a name. My son will be called Robert Sawyer Carmack. We'll call him Sawyer.

I've been giving a lot of thought to all of the things that will be different for my kids than they were for me when I was growing up. One of the things that I'm realizing is that I learned how to tell time based on when my favorite TV shows would come on. I'm realizing that we learn certain things on a "need to know" basis. That is to say, if I feel like I need to know something, I will learn it. So, let's revisit a conversation I had with my own father when I was five years old:

Me: "Dad, can I watch Batman?"

Dad: "Not right now. It doesn't come on until 4."

Me: "When is that?"

Dad: "In a couple hours."

Me: "Will you tell me when it's 4?"

Dad: "You can tell for yourself. Here (pointing to the digital clock on the front of the microwave). When this number says 4 and the other numbers say 00, that's when Batman comes on."

For the next 81 minutes, I stayed glued the front of that microwave. It could happen at any moment, and I wanted to be ready.

This is how I learned how to tell time. It was helpful that Batman always promised to appear at the same "bat-time" on the same "bat-channel." This made it easy for me to remember that Batman didn't just come on at four o'clock on this particular day, but that it would always come on at four o'clock.

And then there was Saturday morning. This is back when Saturday mornings were wall-to-wall cartoons. You could start your day with Rocky and Bullwinkle and stay glued to the television until the Jetsons had ended and the dreaded "news" began. That's how I learned to tell time on Saturday mornings. Bullwinkle starts at 7am. The news comes on at 12. In between, there was nothing but entertaining goodness.

So my question becomes, how will my kids learn to tell time? We have DVR. We have DVDs. Will my kids still want to watch the clock awaiting the beginning of their favorite cartoons, or will we have to educate them in a less subtle way? I can just hear myself: "You know, when I was your age, we had to know what time it was if we wanted to watch our favorite TV shows. Life was tough back then."

Speaking of television, how long do we need to wait until our son finally learns who he's really named after?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Making Babies

Back in June my wife told me she was pregnant. She didn't really "tell" me in the traditional sense. She told me to close my eyes and then proceeded to place two positive pregnancy tests in front of me as well as a book cleverly titled My Boys Can Swim. We had not been planning for this. In fact, we had recently had a long and decisive discussion in which we determined that we would wait a year before trying to have kids. I needed to finish graduate school and she wanted to take a trip to Africa next summer. Two weeks later, I'm being told by some book that my boys can swim.

Even though it wasn't in the plans, I was instantly excited. I never felt even a second of that "holy crap" sensation that I hear about from accidental parents. I'm not saying I wasn't surprised. "Wow" was pretty much the only word I could come up with for a few minutes. But my surprise was always a positive thing.

Since then, we have been going through the odd and unfamiliar process of preparing for the birth of our first child. We have a doctor, a hospital, and a due date (February 19). We do not have a crib, a car seat, or any clue at all as to how to raise a child. We're working on that. I'm going to be doing a lot of reading in the near future. That's how I prepare myself for anything: I read. I basically see the whole world as a classroom, and I need to be ready for the next big exam. Before I write a sermon, I read books on whatever subject I am working on. Before I got married I read a handful of books about marriage and sex and relationships. If I were to take a job on the bomb squad, I'd have to go straight to Barnes and Noble and peruse the section on disarming deadly materials. I'd probably also have to watch The Hurt Locker again. So, the smart money at this point would be to bet on the probability that I'm going to stock my library with books that feature subjects such as child psychology, parent/child relational dynamics, and cautionary tales about good parents who unknowingly raised serial killers.

So here we are, five months into the pregnancy, and we've just been told that we're having a boy. I don't really know why, but Caroline and I were both expecting it to be a girl. I had no logical reason to believe this. In fact, if my family history tells me anything at all, it's that I am genetically incapable of fathering a girl. My dad's been fathering babies for thirty years, and he has yet to sire anything lacking the Y chromosome.

So, now comes the difficult process of choosing a name. All of my suggestions have been quickly vetoed: Bob, Jack, Joe (I like old man names for babies; I think it's hilarious). I halfheartedly lobbied for the name Bruce. I feel like the name is double-awesome because it is not only the name of legendary musician Bruce Springsteen, but it is also the name of Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. We could name the kid Bruce Wayne Carmack. He'd basically be named Batman. What kid doesn't want to be Batman? When my cousin Justin and I were kids, we used to play Batman and Robin. Because he was older and my name was already "Rob," our roles were set in stone. He was Batman, and I was Robin. He was always the Caped Crusader while I was nothing more than the Boy Wonder. If you name a kid Bruce Wayne, he will always get to be Batman in these types of games. Even if he's playing house with his girl cousins or something, he could always pretend like "house" was only a part of his secret identity and, when the tea set comes out, the imaginary Bat Signal could appear in the sky, and my son would have the perfect exit strategy. "I'm sorry, ladies," he would say with a pensive and decisive look on his face. "I have to go. No time to explain." Also, in my little fantasy world, he would spend at least a little time playing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I could even play with him. I'd be Clarence Clemons. Maybe his mom would even be willing to play, too. She could be Patty Scialfa. This is probably not a realistic scenario.

Anyway, it's all very exciting. We have a lot of learning to do and a lot of preparations to make, but I can't wait to meet this kid.