The Inner Munson

“We gotta be careful with these Buffalo Bulls. They have a wicked little halfback who gets ten carries a game, and their punter can absolutely boom it. I’m tellin’ ya, they aren’t gonna just lay down and die.”

Yesterday, my friend, P.C. Frailey, posted out of the blue on my Facebook wall:

Alright Brooks, you’re the only person I’ve ever known more pessimistic about UGA football than Larry Munson. So tell me, what is it about Buffalo that has you nervous? I’m sure there must be something you’re sweating over.

He’s right though. When it comes to forecasting Georgia football, I’m pretty much Chicken Little crossed with the one local reporter that freaks out over the first snowflake. I just never see the positives that others do. If you polled 100 people about Georgia’s chances this year, I would be the one person who predicts an opening loss to the Buffalo Bulls, a New York University football team whose main claim to fame is being consistently mistaken for their professional neighbors, the Buffalo Bills.

Maybe it comes from hearing too much of Larry Munson, the hallowed gravel-voiced announcer for the University of Georgia who passed away last year. Munson was a Saturday fixture during my youth; whether I was at home, at my grandparents, or on the road, the dial was always set to AM 750 WSB and that ragged rasp that painted pictures over the airwaves. Even when Georgia games were on television, my grandfather would turn down the TV announcers and crank Munson to full blast.

What made Larry such a treasure for the Georgia fan was the fact that he was never arrogant about the team. He worried. He fretted. We could be up on a team by 67 points, and Munson would growl, “Up by double digits, but my God that clock is moving slow.” The game was never in hand until the final whistle blew and the teams were off the field and into the locker rooms.

Basically, Munson spoke the unspoken worry of every Georgia fan watching the game. At heart, we were all uncertain of our place, of our abilities, of ourselves. Munson acknowledged that uncertainty and walked us through it on the mic.

I gave P.C. my answer (I think there’s a danger in our defense believing its press too soon; I’m worried about the tailback situation; and I’m just not sold on our offensive line staying healthy all season long. And that doesn’t include Aaron Murray’s need to limit the turnovers) and we had a little fun going back and forth, me playing the part of the pessimist, him the part of the optimist.

But after the thread went dormant, I really thought about it for a minute. Why have I always been so pessimistic about UGA football? Come to think of it, why have I always been so pessimistic about a lot of things? What makes me such a glass-half-empty kind of fellow?

For me, it’s aversion to pain. If I see the glass as half full, and things don’t go my way, then I am not only disappointed by the loss, but by having my hopes dashed too. Life has this funny way of not playing out like a movie script: the good guys don’t always win, the politicians don’t always fight for the little guy, and sometimes things just go badly. So instead of looking for a rainbow that probably wouldn’t appear, I chose to look at the more likely reality.

And strangely enough, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Larry Munson must’ve felt the same way.

Larry called games with that doomsday approach as a way of softening the blow if Georgia did lose. It was mitigation, really; the football gods are capricious – defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory in less time than it takes to say, “Lindsay Scott!” – and Munson counteracted their deviousness by not letting the fans get too invested. He tamped our expectations down with his bleak outlook, and the result was magic: losses didn’t hurt as much as they could have, but victory was never sweeter.

I still tend to veer towards the negative when it comes to forecasting the future (especially if we’re talking politics), but often its not true negativity. I don’t really think the world sucks as much as I might let on. Truthfully, I’ve discovered that even the deepest pains of life can hold joy and meaning, and that gives me a much different view of life than before. But normally, I let the Inner Munson win out simply because it keeps things in balance.

Deep down, however, I know that things will work out in the end.

Except for tomorrow’s game against Buffalo. I hear they’ve got a punter who can absolutely boom kicks, and if we get into a field position battle, well…

Hello Kitty: The Last Day of Childhood

The Destructor has been chosen...this freaking anime cat will take away my daughter's chldhood tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up earlier than usual. I will most likely have to rouse my daughter from her bed and usher her into the kitchen, where we’ll begin our normal morning routine. Only it won’t be normal anymore. There will be changes.

She won’t have the option of starting her day with her usual televised friends. She won’t be able to lay about in her nightclothes, playing with her dolls or ponies, until her mother or I insist on her getting dressed. Chances are she won’t even have time to bug her little brother. Ella will get dressed, get fed, put her hair into a bow, and together we’ll walk up the street to her bus stop.

Tomorrow, my daughter, bedecked in Hello Kitty, will say goodbye to the only life she’s known.

Over a single night, all that my family has known will change. And it will be a significant shift, one that will not correct, one that will not return to us except in brief stints known as winter, spring and summer break.

I was doing okay with that reality for the past few days, but much like the evening before major surgery, or your wedding, or any other life-altering day, I’m starting to feel a little less confident and a little more wistful. Almost panicked, even.

Do all people experience these kinds of shifts in the same way? Is it the singular feature of parenthood to feel more acutely those changes in your child’s life that signify maturation? I looked at the faces of other parents this morning at church and couldn’t detect any anxiety on their parts. But I could feel my heart beating wildly with each minute slipping by. I watched Ella play with her friends after the luncheon at our church and all I could think about was that at this same time next year she would be a completely different Ella. She wouldn’t be a precocious pre-K girl anymore; she would be something other, something undefined, something unpredictable.

Something foreign.

Of course that’s only true if I neglect to undergo this metamorphosis with her, and there is a real part of me that wants to scream, “No, this can’t be happening!” I feel as if somehow some giant, faceless force is attempting to wrench my little girl from my hands and take her somewhere I cannot go.

But the truth is, if I do not follow her on this new path, it will not be because I was forbidden; it will be because I chose to stay behind, cradling the past as fiercely as I once held her. This scares me because I can see the temptation of it and feel the pull towards that choice, but I know if I pull back and hold onto my memories of Ella’s early childhood as the basis for how I see and interact with her, I will lose her twice. Once, because she will move on and grow up and become herself as she is meant to be. Twice, because my memories will fade and, having made no new ones, I will be left with a dissolving image even more foreign and frightening than I could imagine.

So I will wake up tomorrow and get her out of bed. I will hold her longer than I normally would because I know that it will be the last time I can pull her into my embrace with the guarantee that nothing will happen to her unless I let it. I will crave that sense of protection that has safeguarded us both, even while we both knew it was a facade. I will let her go, my heart ripping to pieces and rebuilding itself only to rip into pieces again, and I will fix her a Pop Tart. Or a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Or a bag of Frosted Flakes. Or maybe even a stack of pancakes, though I doubt that because she’s not really been into pancakes recently (just one more sign of the advancing of time). I will hurry her through her breakfast because, for the first time in her life, she will have a schedule that she must keep, a schedule that is enforced by a new entity that is greater than mom and dad and must be obeyed. She will have to dress and get medicine and brush her teeth and check her backpack and put on her shoes and clean her room and trek the Green Mile to the bus stop where her life, her young and frail life, will be forever changed by the opening of those big yellow doors and her first steps onto the Cheese Wagon.

In short, tomorrow morning I release my second-born, first-surviving child into the maws of the masochistic rat race that consumes us all with the same ferocity, while simultaneously losing my own divine illusion of control.

Two innocences for the price of one.

I can hear her singing now, a random yelp to herself and her friends “the Stuffies” that means nothing more to me than the very essence of her purity of soul. I hear it, and I tear up at the thought that some bruiser of a fifth grader may make fun of her tomorrow in the hallway. I hear it and I fill with rage at the very notion that someday some clumsy oaf will make an advance against her will and quite possibly she might feel helpless to resist.

Some people see the first day of Kindergarten as a bittersweet memory that signifies their child is growing up and will soon embark on new adventures.

I see the first day of Kindergarten as quite possibly the first steps to Hell. Or at the very least my own descent into madness.

It’s so bizarre, really, just how much of how I see the world is revealed through Ella’s venturing out into it. How contrary my internal thoughts are to the way I’ve presented the world to her. I’ve raised her to believe in herself, to believe in the powers of goodness and honesty, to trust her own innate creativity and intelligence and to resist the corrosion of conformity for as long as she can.

And all the while, I’ve harbored this festering hatred for the world I’ve painted with such caring detail. In essence, I’ve either lied to my child or to myself, and perhaps both; I’ve spent too long, it seems, dancing between two worlds instead of just inhabiting one.

Tomorrow, then, is my day of reckoning.

Will I choose to follow my daughter into her new world and do my best to reinforce those values and beliefs that I have instilled in her in order to help her become the very best person she can? Or will I hide, like a coward, in a hell of my own making, succumbing to the worst of all possible fates: being a wretched little man, afraid of the world and its unpredictability, who loses his beloved daughter because of his own weakness?

For better or worse, I must choose. As much for Ella’s sake as my own. And the choice will make my world radically different, for the good or the bad.

Who knew a day filled with excitement and potential and squeaky new Hello Kitty accessories could be so metaphysical?