October 16, 2007

When I Wasn't Looking

When I was sixteen years old, sitting in the cold metal bleachers of my high-school stadium watching a Friday night football game, it would have been next to impossible for me to envision myself as I am today. If I'd had the opportunity to look up in the stands and see my thirty-four year old self - a sippy cup in one hand and a two year old on my knee - I doubt I would have recognized myself. Yet, on Saturday, that's exactly what happened.

You know - because I've said it a thousand times since we moved a couple months back - that we live very close to my old high school. Since moving in, we've been subjected to several football games and countless marching band practices. Instead of finding the shouts of crowds or the booming bass of the drums annoying, I find a strange comfort in it. And Mia, a lover of drums and all things percussion, has been captivated. She hears the band then heads into the backyard and marches around in the grass while shouting "I hear the marching band!"

This weekend provided a rare, Saturday afternoon game. So we went.

Until Saturday, I hadn't been back at the school in fifteen years. The experience was nothing short of surreal (and this was after being at a pumpkin patch and seeing a goat pee on it's own face so the surreal threshold was pretty darn high).

At one point, during half-time when virtually all the attention was directed towards the marching band and their lame half-time show, I had a metaphorical out of body experience (metaphorical because I didn't lose my mind and it didn't actually happen but I imagined how the scene would play out in my head). I looked down to the base of the bleachers and there the high-school me stood - long hair, flannel shirt, earring, cigarette. "What the fuck happened to you?" he asked.

"I know," I replied. "But then again, when I was you I'm not sure I knew what I'd be doing next week, much less when I doubled in age. The truth is, you don't really know much about life. You've got some ideas, not all of them wrong, and you're far from clueless, but you just don't get it. Not yet. And look around. Have you seen these people you go to school with? The cheerleaders, the jocks, the band geeks, the stoners and the nameless, label-less ones who look like they're just trying to fit in somewhere, anywhere? You're kids. I didn't see that when I was you. I doubt you do now. But one day, you'll see. So, to answer your question, I graduated then went off to school where I got somewhat educated but, more importantly, met a hot chick and fell in love with her. We lived together, got jobs, got married, bought houses and learned about life. Then we had a kid and another's on the way. To you, sitting in the bleachers with a sippy cup and a two year old probably doesn't seem cool. But in fifteen years, you're going to think differently. It's not opening for Guns N Roses or writing the great American novel. It's better. And you're going to love the fact that this is your life."

I'm no longer a child. It happened to me when I wasn't looking
- Douglas Coupland, The Gum Thief

Posted by Chris at October 16, 2007 6:17 AM

Great post. It reminds me of the Toby Keith video "How Do You Like Me Now". (yes, I'm a geek...)

Posted by: Susan at October 16, 2007 6:32 AM

Love this post. A letter to your teenage self.

Posted by: Maria at October 16, 2007 7:00 AM

I know, dude. I'm not even that far removed from high school (22) and I wish I could slap old me. I mean, I spent a lot of time being a stupid little girl and lamenting over boys I don't even talk to anymore, and paid too much attention to drama with friends who aren't in my life anymore. And it's only been like, 4 and a half years. I can barely imagine what I'll think in 10 more.

Maybe I'll be less embarrassed about it all, anyway. :)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 16, 2007 7:59 AM

I actually really needed this today as I am all moody and introspective. It's my birthday. I'm 31. My life sure as hell is not what I thought it would be. Living a mile down the road from where I lived in highschool isn't where I thought I'd be either. It's not the life I envisioned for myself, and I have to remind myself that I have a husband who loves me, two fantastic (and goofy) daughters who (usually) worship me. Life is pretty damn good. The dreams I had when I was half my age were the dreams of someone who didn't know any better.

Posted by: sarah at October 16, 2007 8:03 AM

I spoke with an old friend from high school last week, someone I hadn't spoken with since right after graduation. She said "Don't you wish we were still in high school?" with this wistful, longing look on her face.

My answer?

"Absolutely not!"

We thought we were so cool, but we were just kids.

Chris, I LOVE this post. Love it. You write wonderfully and have a way of putting things right into perspective. Thank you.

Posted by: Alissa at October 16, 2007 8:07 AM

Great post! I had a similar experience with my 10yr class reunion. I had to organize it and therefore attend. I was worried all of the conversations would revolve around how much money everyone makes, and how they are CEOs for companies. In-fact the conversations were genuine not judging, and mainly revolved around families and kids.

Posted by: Josh at October 16, 2007 8:10 AM

Bravo, Chris.

Posted by: Bridget at October 16, 2007 8:13 AM

Excellent post. I like your description of the high school demographic. I don't think it's changed much in 30 years. I remember there were always more "nameless, label-less" than any other group.

Now, you have mentioned the goat peeing on his own face twice. Clearly you must want to describe this in more detail. I'm curious, just how did he pull this off?

Posted by: Jeff St Real at October 16, 2007 8:35 AM


What an awesome post. I just started working again (after a seven month vacation...tons o'fun..not!) and I'm working with someone I went to middle school/highschool with. We weren't "acquainted" with each other but we remembered each other.

We were talking yesterday about our graduation and the fact that I remembered out of the blue, the title to the valedictorian's speech. He looked at me and said "damn... I can't even remember graduation!"

But look how far we've come! ;-)

Posted by: Michelle at October 16, 2007 9:01 AM

cool post

Posted by: William at October 16, 2007 9:06 AM

They really were all just kids, like me. How did I not realize that?

Posted by: Fraulein N at October 16, 2007 9:09 AM

I have been thinking about this a lot lately since my birthday is coming up (34) and I always like to reflect. Life is so wonderful now I would never want to go back to that troubled little runt that I was when I was 16.

Life is so fabulous and the only thing I would tell myself at 16 was just hold on for the ride because while it will be wild for a long time at 34 you will SO amazing unbelievably happy - you just wait! Of course the flip side of this is that I am bracing myself for my son at 16 already!!!

Posted by: Christina at October 16, 2007 9:51 AM

ahh, the wisdom that comes with maturity. I'm still working on it....

Posted by: betty at October 16, 2007 9:52 AM

I know that this is not the subject of your post, but you mentioned the goat pee again so I must ask... Please explain the logistics of how that occurred, because I can't even begin to figure it out and it's making my brain hurt to think about it. (And I CAN'T Google it. I know what will happen if I do and I'm afraid. Very, very afraid.)

Posted by: GreenCanary at October 16, 2007 10:03 AM

Oh, I hear you on this. Recently I ran into a group of high school kids practicing their sneering disdain on all who walked by. All the way into my early 20s that scene used to intimidate me, but now all I could think was how funny it was. Because their view of coolness and success is so incredibly narrow it is paralyzing. I know mine was at that age.

Sometimes I get a little down and berate myself over not writing the great American novel yet (or even the passable American novella), but overall, I have to say, it's going pretty well.

Posted by: Alias Mother at October 16, 2007 10:17 AM

There is a smile on my face as I sit here. I've had two of those times. At 16 and at 26. At 16 I thought I was going to become the ultimate soccer mom and mother earth type mother. At 26 I thought my life was over and nearly gave up and now, I look back and I think, it was all worth waiting for.
Thanks for your post, and thanks for reminding me about these important things.

Posted by: Maribeth at October 16, 2007 10:27 AM

Terrific post! Sounds like you totally would have been my type in high school! This takes me right back to the bleachers of my own high school. I cannot imagine myself being there now, actually enjoying the event rather than just being there to see and be scene.

Posted by: Shelly at October 16, 2007 10:39 AM

I already 'fessed up on Beth's site as to what I was like when I was that age. I can only say, I would NEVER want to go back. Ever.

It is such a hard thing (as you will see) when you have a teenage child and they start going through "stuff" to try and impress upon them that high school is NOT going to last forever and there IS something more coming. It is only a stepping stone. I think that is partly why we end up with so much school violence and suicides because somewhere along the line someone forgot to get that message across.

Posted by: sue at October 16, 2007 10:53 AM

I love this post.

I have no idea when I grew up either, but I really do still feel I could step back into my high school self and lead that life.

Posted by: tuesday at October 16, 2007 10:54 AM

Very wise, my friend, very wise!

Posted by: Sue at October 16, 2007 11:11 AM

High school was painful. Looking back now, I feel a little sorry for the popular kids, though. It's that false sense of security that really sets people up for disaster. I kind of see it daily walking around a college campus...everyone so desperate to fit in somewhere that they end up fitting in either nowhere or the wrong places.

My cluelessness was a blessing...I doubt I would've risked as much and experienced all that I have were it otherwise. But I suppose if I had only one sentence to impart upon my younger self, it would be something like, "The only thing you need to be afraid of is yourself." Because it's true.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at October 16, 2007 11:22 AM

This was a wonderful post. My high school yearbook has been missing for many years but I have a few pictures of me at that age.

I skipped our 50th reunion. Just didn't want to know.

Good Lord!!

Posted by: ann adams at October 16, 2007 11:30 AM

This is one of your best posts. I loved it.

Posted by: Jennie at October 16, 2007 11:51 AM

I love this post!

My high school self would never have pictured her life turning out this way. I think I'm supposed to be living in Paris being cutting edge or something. She would probably be surprised and pleased that I ended up with the infamous John M, who I knew of in high school (he was in a band! and had a mohawk! and Laurie dated him! and he worked at Tower!) but did not know personally. I think she'd be surprised by who he really is, and how much better that is than her 16 year old imaginings.

In fact, my whole reality is so much better than what I thought it would be when I was half my age.

Posted by: bad penguin at October 16, 2007 12:28 PM

So I went to a 10yr reunion and overheard one of the "popular" kids saying " I wish we wern't so snotty back then, cuz that guy is really cool." About a nameless-labellessness one. I tried very hard to teach my kids to not be snots, and my grand gkids are almost there. Yeah, there were a couple of things cool about high school (idealistic naivete) but I would rather be 27 if given a choice.

Posted by: joss is boss at October 16, 2007 12:52 PM

How very true.

Posted by: BID at October 16, 2007 1:56 PM

I like going to high school football games and trying to find the 16-y-o me in the crowd.

Posted by: kalisah at October 16, 2007 2:29 PM

You've left me misty eyed... and you've left me wondering how Mia enjoyed the experience!!!

Posted by: Colleen at October 16, 2007 2:42 PM

Very awesome. Good insight. High school me would be mortified by me now. I was supposed to be like you -- married with kids. But I'm not and it's so okay. I want to go back and tell HS me that it's not the end of the world if I don't end up like that. That my life certainly won't suck or be absolutely over.

Nice that we can find the comfortableness of our *reality*

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at October 16, 2007 3:23 PM


Beautiful post, Chris.

Posted by: julie at October 16, 2007 3:35 PM

You brought tears to my eyes with this one - I have been trying so hard lately to take each moment, or at least as many as I can and really enjoy them, time is going by so fast, my 2nd is already 8 months and I swear it went by in the quickest flash. When I think back to high school it seems so freaking long ago, but only 15 yrs, and at the same time, I remember so clearly how I felt at the time, like I knew everything - looking back I knew nothing! I love where I am today, I just wish it would go by a little slower, kind of like how I felt watching the clock tick in the middle of science class, it seemed to go by much slower then!

Posted by: Danielle at October 16, 2007 3:38 PM

A friend of mine once said, "I'm nothing like I was and I plan on continuing in that direction."

I love it.

Posted by: Arwen at October 16, 2007 4:38 PM

Great post. Loved it. Back when I was a teen, I felt the same way. No way was I ever going to be a mom, much less a stay-at-home one like my mom was. Ha!

Posted by: Dawn at October 16, 2007 6:30 PM

That was great :) And it made me smile.

Posted by: Heather at October 16, 2007 8:25 PM

Oh, and it also really reminded me of this song by Brad Paisley (and I know you know tons of music, but also that you're not really a country guy, so I'm guessing you don't know it?) but I *love* it - story songs are the precise reason I love country :) Check out the lyrics: http://artists.letssingit.com/brad-paisley-lyrics-letter-to-me-x1t1z4c

Posted by: Heather at October 16, 2007 8:48 PM

I could totally see me doing this since I lived around the corner from my high school as well.

Great post.

Posted by: aimee/greeblemonkey at October 16, 2007 11:39 PM

I think my 16-year-old self would be surprised to see where I am today: SAHM to triplets, living in a country-esque place, and not yet having my degree. I wouldn't be disappointed, though. At age 16, I had very few goals for life past 16-1/2.

Posted by: loren at October 17, 2007 1:50 AM


I do this surreal-moment thing all the time. I see the kids collect on their bikes in front of the little store next to my house, and I see them all as me back when. Who will they become? Who have I become? Am I where I want to be?

This is an excellent post and really tells what life means, what it's all about. It doesn't matter from where we come, but how far we have come...and what we've made out of our lives. That 16 year old kid can't possibly fathom.
Thanks for the eye-opening start to my today.

Posted by: Tera at October 17, 2007 2:23 AM

Great post! I have pondered the same thoughts (about my teen life vs my life now) and thought about blogging about it. I had yet to come up with a way to do it, but you clearly beat me to it. You're a great writer, Chris!

Posted by: Nadine at October 17, 2007 10:35 AM

that was excellent.

Posted by: iheartnewyork at October 17, 2007 2:42 PM


Posted by: Emily at October 17, 2007 11:35 PM


Oh and you never know, maybe the sippy cup will become fashionable. It wasn't long ago grown-children were sucking on the ole pacifier as a fashion statement. Weren't they?

Imagine, Beer through a Sippy Cup. That could be the new fad.

Posted by: Bethany at October 22, 2007 4:43 PM