In down moments, you’ll routinely catch me playing with a fidget spinner, doodling on scratch paper, or even tapping my foot. I’ve always had nervous energy, it’s in my blood.
In fact, in my first job as a newspaper reporter, I used to throw a baseball back and forth from one hand to the next as I thought about what I wanted to write. Later working at another newspaper, I used to cup my phone against my neck and shoulder and play with a stress ball as I interviewed some local politician on whatever new zoning request or tax hike they wanted to implement. I would scrunch the bluish-green stress ball back and forth until the official said something worth quoting and then stop to jot it down on my notepad or type it into my computer.
The stress was well earned. In that job, we had a small team and a limited budget and would be asked to write until we dropped, meaning we were asked to write four or five stories each day to fill that day’s paper with little time to be creative or perform much followup research. We had to get the basics down as quickly as we could. I came away from the job able to write quickly, but the job certainly came with its share of stress.
The plot thickens
If you add in, the stress of everyday life, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I was strung pretty tight. One day before the work got too crazy, my friends and I were talking. I suspect we were talking about everyone’s weekend or the Philadelphia Phillies upcoming schedule or some other topic.
I remember someone asked how I was doing. My face got flush. I was ready, but I wasn’t ready to tell everyone my good news. I stuttered and stammered and mentioned that my wife was pregnant and we were going to have our first child. Everyone was happy for me and they quickly started asking me questions. I was ecstatic, but nervous as hell. The questions seemed to come fast and furious. I felt like I was under the hot lights of an interrogator: How far along was my wife? How was she doing? Was I excited about fatherhood? Which hospital were we going to go to? Were we going to stay in our apartment or were we going to buy a house? How would we pay for college? Okay, okay, I doubt my friends actually asked any of those questions, but they certainly ricocheted across my brain. They were the questions I was asking myself and I wasn’t sure of the answers. We had been looking for a house to purchase, but hadn’t gotten too far. Plus, I worried how we would manage with a lowly reporter’s salary and a newborn on the way.
Blood pressure rising!
As I talked, I flipped the stress ball back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in my hands. Stress balls are supposed to be indestructible, right? The ball in my hands must have never met pregnant life. A few twists and turns later and, voila, the ball had had it. The squishy ball broke up right in front of my friends. The fine silicone sand or whatever the material that was inside the ball burst and went flying everywhere, my desk, my pants, the floor. My friends, of course, broke out into laughter and my neck and face turned even redder. I tried to laugh like I was in on the joke, but it came out forced. I tried to convince everyone that I wasn’t nervous, that the ball was just defective, but my protests didn’t work. They weren’t buying the lie.
I’m not sure how the mess got cleaned up. I’m pretty sure a good friend of mine took pity on me and swept it up. After the craziness had settled down, I remember going out to my car to give myself a pep talk and get myself under control. When I got home later that night, my wife and I talked late into the night about how we couldn’t let fear of the unknown drive us crazy. We were looking forward to parenthood and would do great.
And a baby makes three
Later in the year, my wife delivered a beautiful baby girl that swept my breath away and grabbed me by my pinky and has never let go. One of my friends replaced the stress ball, but by then I wasn’t stressed, I had moved onto exhaustion, trying to keep up with a newborn’s sleep schedule.
I’m not sure whatever happened to the replacement stress ball. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t rip it open like I did all those years ago. I’d like to think that I’ve replaced the stress in my life by playing apps on my iPhone that play calming music or meditations, writing in a daily journal, or spinning a fidget cube, but, let’s be honest, given the right circumstance, I’d probably still rip open that stress ball.
The right circumstances? Oh Hell, just name the day and time and I’ll be there! It’s only a matter of time.
Oh well, se la vie.