Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Name Game

I’ve come to realize that I’m going to be responsible for a lot of components of my child’s life. There will be a lot of opportunities to mold them in my self-image and teach important life lessons through TV shows – but there will also be a lot of chances for me to screw stuff-up. However, for most of these potential screw-ups, there’s plenty of time and other external factors that can correct them. You give your child a terrible haircut, the hair eventually grows back. You teach your child to hate people from Pittsburgh, there’s a chance they grow up and eventually meet someone nice from Pittsburgh which makes them question that teaching. It’s nice that there are these “second chances” with so many things, because it takes a lot of the edge off of the scariness of parenting. Mistakes can be corrected, scars heal, and pencils have erasers.

Except for one thing. Their name. It’s the potential mistake that can last a lifetime.

(Yes, technically someone can change their name once they are a grown-up, but at that point it’s far too late. They’ve already gone through the potential trauma of a childhood of mockery and have learned to accept whatever name their parents gave them… plus it’s already written on so many things they own!)


With all this pressure around the name, it’s no wonder that there are countless websites and books dedicated to helping expectant parents to find that perfect name. There are lists of the most popular names in each state and country of the world, in-depth explanations about the origin of each name, and even random name generators that let you type in your last name and the Internet will pick a baby name for you. It really makes you wonder how in the world people came up with baby names twenty years ago.

Kate came home with one of these books from the library a few weeks back. It was approximately the size of a dictionary (or at least what I think dictionaries used to look like, before they went extinct) and had names categorized a thousand different ways. Having heard horror stories from friends and coworkers about the difficulties in picking the perfect name, we brought this book along on a long car ride to read it cover-to-cover and begin what we anticipated would be a nine month long journey of research, lists, analysis, and professional assistance in finding that perfect name.

As we drove along, I flipped through the book. Since we are not going to find out if we are having a boy or a girl (stay tuned for a Blog post on that decision at some point in the future), we had to come up with both a solid boy name and a solid girl name. After about fifteen minutes of reading names out loud with Kate, here’s what I quickly found out – I hate all names. I think part of it is a result of this book, which was far too “trendy” for my taste. The book was literally five-hundred pages long, and I don’t even think it listed “Brian” once. You want “Brice” or “Brixol”? It’s in the book. You want a more normal name? Eh… not so much. Not that there is anything wrong with picking a more “fun” name, but when you have a long German last name like I do, you know that over the course of your child’s life, they’re probably going to spend thousands of hours spelling and pronouncing their name for everyone. It would be a little cruel to give them a first name that requires the same… so that quickly ruled out about 90% of the names in the book.

Luckily, we had another resource – a listing of baby names that Kate had put together when she was fourteen. Fun fact – I have no idea where my college diploma is located, but within one week of finding out we were pregnant, Kate produced a scrap of paper listing potential baby names that was over 15 years old. You might say we are slightly different. Not that there was anything wrong with these names, but they were obviously names that were picked by a female with no male intervention. To her, the name “Nathaniel” is adorable. To me, it’s a little girly. (No offense to all the Nathaniels out there – but you really should just be going by “Nate”)

Long story short – after about five minutes, we quickly burned through that list as well with no strong name contenders. At this point, we decided to do things the old-fashioned way. We just started talking and thinking about names that we liked. I had very few criteria:

  1. It had to be a name that worked at all ages. There are plenty of names that are “cute” when you’re a little kid, but wouldn’t work in a business setting (like “Precious”). Likewise, there are plenty of old people names that don’t work for a little kid (like “Gertrude”). I want a name that is age-less.
  2. It had to be a name that was less than two syllables long. We’ve got the long last name, and I don’t want my kid to have to spend ten minutes writing his/her name out on the top of every test at school for his/her entire career. That leaves less time to actually answer the questions on the test, and will probably result in lower grades.
  3. It had to be easily nickname-able. Although we’re putting all this pressure on ourselves to come up with the perfect name, at the end of the day the child will probably be called by their actual name less than ten percent of the time. I’m actually the worst offender of this in the world. I don’t call anyone by their actual name – ever. It’s always a nickname, a last name, a combination of a first and middle name, their initials, or just something random I come up with which makes no sense to anyone – but then I use it long enough that it eventually catches on.
  4. It had to be a name that worked regardless of the kid’s personality. It had to be a name that could be fun, studious, sporty, professional, sexy, or presidential. Yes, during our debate about girls’ names, I said the worst sentence in the history of the world when I said “it has to be a name that can be sexy when she’s older”… and then instantly regretted it and vowed if I have a daughter, she will be sporty and not allowed to date boys until she is 30 or I am dead.

Ten minutes later, we had both of our names. I’m fairly certain that in the history of the world, it was the quickest that two baby names had ever been selected. Granted we may grow to hate them both over the next six months and have to go through the process again – but for now, we’re happy with them. In the end, I think one of the best things about the names we picked were that both are very easily convertible into other names – there are acceptable variations of both that we gave the kid an out just in case they really, really hate their name. Look at us, already being the best parents ever!

(Actually, it turned out that picking out middle names to go along with the first names was much, much more difficult since there was an added variable in the mix. Now we had to ensure that the middle name went with BOTH the first name AND the last name – and still passed the classic “middle name test” – that being, it sounds like someone is in trouble when you say the first, middle, and last name all together. )

The other funny thing is that at the end of all this, I realized how unimportant the name actually is. It’s not the name that makes the person, it’s the person that makes the name. Someone can be named “Lazor” and go to bed each night at 8:30 pm. On the other hand, someone can be named “Ruth” and party like a rock star five nights a week. All it takes is one person to make a name awesome for the next generation… or totally ruin it for everyone currently living with it.

I’m just hoping that our child falls into the first category and not the second.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Breaking the News

There comes a point in every pregnancy (one assumes – I’ve only been a part of this one… as far as the wife knows. Shhh!) when it comes time to make it “official”. No, I’m not talking about when you announce it on the Facebook – but when you finally start telling friends and family the big news. All the sudden, the baby goes from a little secret between the husband and wife (and area bartenders) into something that is public knowledge… and generally spreads like wildfire.

Girls like to choreograph these announcements like the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. There are props, elaborate schemes, and hours of tense buildup to the eventual moment. It only comes after hours of internal debate of which order to tell others, ensuring that the order that someone finds out you are with child is directly proportional to how important that person is in your life. It’s nice, but a little crazy.

Guys are the exact opposite. Aside from telling my parents (where I had to do it a typical Brian way – that is, being a jackass and burying the lead behind the excitement I had over my new iPhone), I’ve told people in exactly one way thus far – waiting until a conversation naturally veered in that direction and then saying “oh yeah, we’re pregnant” or something along those lines. It’s simple, direct to the point, and doesn’t steal the thunder from any other events or conversations that are going on.

Like most things in life, I think my attitude towards announcing a pregnancy is a direct result of the following scene on Scrubs, where JD and Turk stage an elaborate scheme only to have it fail in the end… and in the end, it doesn’t matter:

But aside from how you do it, when you finally make the announcement, I’ve found there are five possible reactions, almost solely determined by which group a person falls into:

Family Members – the most excited ever. Especially the parents, who finally are going to have their own grandkids to talk about after years of putting in time listening to their friends and family talk about their own grandkids. Fresh blood in the family means the family name (potentially) lives on for another generation and there is once again a reason to have toys at Christmas. Given that they are the first to know, when they start jumping in with a lot of in-depth questions, it leads to a lot of answers like “good question, we haven’t talked about that yet”… which can pretty quickly turn the “fun” of the announcement into the feeling of “holy crap this is for real and we have no idea what we are doing”.

Females with Babies – second only to family members when it comes to excitement. It often involves screaming, jumping, clapping, and a mob-like rush of the new mother with rapid-fire tips, suggestions, and stories about all-things baby. Finally, another female to join their club! The best advice I can give to a man who encounters one of these scrums? Back away very slowly and don’t make any direct eye contact.

Males with Babies – unlike females, the male reaction to the announcement usually amounts to some manner of hand-shaking, fist-bumping, or beer-cheering, followed by two to three minutes of polite small talk about the very basic basics about the baby, followed by an immediate return to the prior conversation - generally about sports, food, or recounting stories of stupid things you did in college.

Females without Babies – suddenly there is one fewer member in the “girls who will go out partying” club. Suddenly the female is faced with two options – either going along with the rest of the females and faking their way through the conversations about pumps and poops, or subtly sliding over to the male conversation and potentially alienating themselves from the rest of the females – who suddenly look at this outsider with distrust and fear.

Males without Babies – but as bad as the post-announcement moments are for the females, they’re even worse for the males. Not only do they have to potentially fake interest in conversations that they REALLY don’t care about, but this exponentially increases the odds that the next time they are alone with a female friend, the conversation is going to quickly slide into the danger zone of talking about babies (or in the case of single males, marriage). That’s not anything any guy wants after a nice evening of drinks with friends.

It really is quite funny how this makes it sound like there are such strict battle lines drawn between those with and without kids – but it’s kinda similar to marriage. As soon as you get married, you want other people to get married. Sure, part of it is to help ensure that you single friends aren’t out having too much fun without you – but also because you know that at the end of the day, it’s great and you want your friends to be just as happy as you are. I think the same logic applies to babies. Once you have one, you want your other friends to join in the joy that they bring… but also to be sure that you aren’t the only one stuck at home watching a baby while everyone else is out partying.

Oh yeah – one more thing. Remember earlier when I said I’ve only told people about the baby through normal, natural conversation? Well that’s about to change.

When I got engaged, I had this great idea to not tell anyone at work about it so that one day I could just say something like “hey guys, I’m going to be out of the office next week getting married”… again – basically the opposite of what I saw happen when girls got engaged at work, which resulted in a lot of screaming and attention. So once I found out that we were pregnant, I had the exact same idea. How hilarious would it be to just show up at the Christmas party with Kate 7 months pregnant? The reaction on peoples’ faces would be hilarious – and we could finally push the limits on the debate of “will you ever call out someone as actually being pregnant if they don’t tell you they are?” As a male, the answer is “no way in hell”, even if someone looked 7 months pregnant.

My downfall with the engagement was putting up a fake proposal on my Lost Blog – which I thought was equally funny… but it turns out that a number of co-workers read the Blog and the word spread quickly.

My downfall with the baby is going to be the same thing. It only seems right to link the Lost Blog to the Baby Blog since they’ve been anxiously waiting for me to start writing again for the past year… but in doing so, it will inevitably spill the beans to co-workers who still periodically check the Blog.

So here is my plea for a happy medium – co-workers who know me, please refrain from telling everyone at work as quickly as possible. You know you would rather see the experiment of the 7 month pregnant wife at the Christmas party play out, wouldn’t you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Art of Deception

I’ve discovered that one of the ironic unintended results of becoming pregnant is that it instantly makes you a liar to all the people that you care about most. I know, I get it – you don’t want to tell people that you are pregnant too early due to the risk of miscarriage and all that other sad stuff. Prolonging telling people the good news is a way to potentially prevent having to tell them horrible, horrible news in a horribly awkward conversation. I’ve seen it happen before at work. It’s ugly.

Person A: “Hey Person B, getting excited about the baby?”

Person B: “We lost the baby.”

Person A: “So… how about this weather?”

::awkward silence for five minutes, followed by both parties feeling like crap for hours::

So I’m on board with not telling people about the pregnancy until things are “safe”. But isn’t it a little hilarious that the first true parenting skill that new parents learn to develop is how to tell bold-faced lies to everyone they see?

I guess when you think about it, it makes perfect sense – since parents have to do a good deal of lying to their kids for at least the first ten… or twenty years of their lives. You know, things like:

  • “The Easter Bunny is real.”
  • “Santa Claus is watching.”
  • “There’s nothing to worry about, we know exactly what we’re doing.”
  • “I didn’t drink until I was 21 – and you aren’t going to either!”

So really, all we’re doing now is practicing for later in life, right? This is nature’s way of getting us in the mindset of becoming parents, where you often avoid the truth for the sake of the greater good?


It’s just funny how much of a game it all becomes. Once you’ve been married for a few years, people (unjustifiably) start expecting that you’re going to start having kids… and that becomes the go-to topic of conversation for any gatherings. I think that part of it is due to the fact that life gets more boring once you are a grown-up and just working all the time. Babies are an exciting change, something to talk about other than your boring job that no one cares about or the things you are doing around your house that just lead to Kate wanting me to do stuff around our house. People are excited about them and want to talk about them – and yet once you actually have one, you spend the first three months telling people you don’t… and working like hell to prevent them from finding out.

I guess the second part of the equation wouldn’t be too much of an issue were it not for our good friend alcohol. If it weren’t for the fact that every social event involving our group of friends involves alcohol (translation – we’re fun), it would be a lot easier to hide. But like I said, since we are still awesome, it can lead to some tricky situations. Once one couple in a group of friends has a baby, they become hawks – on the lookout for someone else to join them in the world of parenting, carefully monitoring who is drinking and who is not. They are well aware that “I’ll just have a water” is code for “I’m pregnant”. They know that cozies can easily disguise a soda to look like a beer. They know what it looks like to slowly fake drink a glass of wine for two hours and then have it suddenly disappear after you step away for a moment.

I kid you not, I’ve seen friends go and buy shots of alcohol for suspicious girls and have them drink it to prove that they are not pregnant. Ridiculous – but admittedly effective… or at the very least proving who is a really, really irresponsible mother willing to do anything to keep up the game.

Also crazy? How willing bartenders are to go along with the game. If you ever want to have free non-alcoholic drinks at a bar – and are a female – just go up to a bartender and tell them that you’re going to order “gin and tonics” all night (wink wink) but instead make them as tonic water with lime. I think the bartenders like the game as much as the females do, because they ham it up with “here is that drink you ordered ma’am, I hope it’s not too strong for you” and then end up not charging you at the end of the night for any of them. I wonder if this is a topic covered in bartender school, or if they just feel special knowing that they know you’re pregnant before most of your friends or family. Again, ironic. I think the first five people to know that we were pregnant were bartenders.

As the male half of the pregnancy equation, the game works out pretty well for me. I’m the one trading drinks with the wife, pounding them, and trading back to make it appear that she’s drinking along with everyone else. Sure, I look like a total lightweight since I’m drunk twice as fast as everyone else – but hey, anything to keep up the game, right? Plus, I’ve got a built in DD for the next year. Might as well take advantage of it.

Once the game ends, and it’s safe to own up to your pregnancy, of course people are quick to come out with stories about how they knew it because you bought life insurance, or that they suspected something when Kate actually volunteered to be a DD at a wedding – but still, I’d like to think that we played the game well… and are now pretty well prepared for working together to lie to our future child.

Also, now that we’ve successfully played the game and seen things from the other side, we’re going to be even better at calling out future friends when they’re pregnant! Get the shots ready.