12 things you don’t know about Rob Cottingham

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In a few hours I’ll be thankful for a plate of turkey, stuffing and gravy. Meanwhile, there’s nothing like jamming chunks of bread into the cavity of a formerly living creature to make you appreciate what really matters in life. As I stood elbow-deep in turkey, I found myself reflecting on the person who is at the heart of most of what I have to be thankful for this year (and the previous ten): Rob Cottingham.

Since Rob is both my husband and my business partner, I have him to thank not only for my wonderful children and happy marriage but also for making it possible for me to work with amazing people — and on amazing projects — at Social Signal. People who know us on either or both fronts know that Rob brings boundless creativity, intelligence, humor and kindness to everything he does. That’s the big stuff: the pervasive, far-reaching and life-changing joys of sharing both work and home with Rob.

But Rob also offers many smaller joys and talents that largely fly under the radar. You may think you know all of Rob’s extraordinary facets, if you know him as a strategist, communicator, cartoonist, Drupalist, comedian, writer and father. With that many talents already out there in the world, how much could be hiding behind the scenes?

A lot, actually. Here are some of Rob’s lesser-known talents, virtues and proclivities:

  1. He knows about birds. Rob can identify virtually any North American bird on sight, and an awful lot of them by their song. Go for a walk in the woods or by the beach with Rob, and he’ll point out that the sound you’re hearing is a pileated woodpecker, or that the bird hiding in that shrub is an immature chickadee.
  2. He’s handy in an emergency. Back in the day, Rob was a medic in the Army reserves, and a nursing orderly. So he knows how to handle all the little health problems that crop up with young kids — like how to tell whether a cut is getting infected — as well as how to do basic first aid in an emergency. And he is generous about putting those skills into service: he once stepped in to assist a stranger who was bleeding in the street after a violent attack.
  3. He draws on demand. One of Rob’s ninja parenting tricks is drawing custom colouring books for Little Sweetie. At her request, he has drawn mermaids, dragons, boats and castles for her to colour as she sees fit.
  4. He is always nice-funny. Most people who are as funny as Rob make a good share of their jokes at other people’s expense. But even when we are on our own, with nobody to overhear him, Rob’s wisecracks are always completely kind-hearted, and made only at his own expense.
  5. He does far more than his share of the dishes and laundry. As a working mom, I’ve been able to pursue my professional dreams because Rob does more than his share of the housework. Rob does three rounds of dishes for every round I do, and about ten times as many loads of laundry.
  6. He has vestigial gills. Rob has tiny holes in the upper edge of each ear, which he tells me are vestigial gills. They don’t let him breathe under water, but the are just large enough to hold tiny feathers, thus eliminating the need to pierce his ears.
  7. He is the bedtime tough guy. Any sleep-deprived parent can attest to the importance of being firm when your kid resists bedtime or tries to get in bed with you during the night. But it’s incredibly hard to do when all you want is to go back to sleep! Despite being the world’s nicest guy, Rob is a total hard-ass when it comes to re-Ferberizing our kids. He’s able to insist on good bedtime and night-time habits, even when he’s completely exhausted.
  8. He reads computer books in the bath. When Rob is feeling tense, one of his favourite ways of beating the stress is to get in the bath with a computer manual and read it cover-to-cover. No wonder he knows all the advanced keystrokes in Photoshop!
  9. He makes the world’s best waffles. Rob is now on his second waffle-iron, having exhausted the first one through constant use. After much experimentation he has developed a technique — I believe it involves separating the eggs and beating the whites — that yields consistently delicious, light waffles. Plus he has figured out that by sneaking protein powder into the mix, he can give the kids a healthy breakfast that they’re guaranteed to eat.
  10. He has an amazing singing voice. When Rob and I were practicing for our karaoke-enabled wedding, we did a few coaching sessions with a professional opera singer, who told us that she could turn Rob into an opera singer himself if he put in the hours. Rob may have passed up the opera career, but he does a fantastic job with Baby Beluga and the collected works of U2.
  11. He is an awesome speller and grammarian. I am a bit of a language nazi myself, but even I run into occasional glitches with things like the spelling of necessary and the proper use of the comma. But I don’t think I’ve stumped or corrected Rob more than three times in eleven years. I know that may not seem like an especially loveable thing to everyone, but I absolutely adore his impeccable grasp of the English language.
  12. He is even nicer to me in private. Rob is so reliably kind and solicitous of me when we are around other people that I’m often asked if that’s just his company behaviour. But he’s actually even more thoughtful and affectionate in private, when he doesn’t have to be shy about expressing his unremitting enthusiasm and support. Really.

How did I manage to marry a guy with all these amazing qualities? I think it was just a tremendous stroke of luck that the guy who happened to be a match for my particular combination of tech geeky, leftie politics geeky, and writerly geeky also turned out to be the kindest and most thoughtful guy in the world. And for that stoke of luck — and every happy day and consequence since — I’m totally, profoundly and eternally thankful.

10 Comments on this site

  1. Kim

    So lovely Alex.

    I would love to spend more time with the above mentioned.

    Dinner at ours soon?

    xx
    K

  2. Kim

    So lovely Alex.

    I would love to spend more time with the above mentioned.

    Dinner at ours soon?

    xx
    K

  3. Mira

    Alex – this is an amazing post. And a wonderful way to be thankful and express your gratitute. Rob, I like you even more now!

  4. Mira

    Alex – this is an amazing post. And a wonderful way to be thankful and express your gratitute. Rob, I like you even more now!

  5. Lisa

    A lovely post. Having followed you both for a while on Twitter (after coming across you also on HBR) as social media geniuses (genii? maybe gurus works better) it sounds like you also have a really special relationship to boot! Congrats to you both 🙂

  6. Lisa

    A lovely post. Having followed you both for a while on Twitter (after coming across you also on HBR) as social media geniuses (genii? maybe gurus works better) it sounds like you also have a really special relationship to boot! Congrats to you both 🙂

  7. jessica gray

    Alex, that is so beautiful and you have broken the Samuel curse of various marriages..Great going. Love to Rob and children

  8. jessica gray

    Alex, that is so beautiful and you have broken the Samuel curse of various marriages..Great going. Love to Rob and children

  9. Alex

    One more for the list: Eerie quantitative superpowers. Rob can guess the number of jelly beans in any jar, the exact size of tupperware needed for any given volume of leftovers, and the price of any consumer product whatsoever. (Which can actually be really annoying, when I see an outrageous price and ask him, “Guess how much this is?” and he gets it right to the nearest dollar.) One of these days we will get him on the Price is Right and I will get the collection of home appliances I can only dream of.

  10. Alex

    One more for the list: Eerie quantitative superpowers. Rob can guess the number of jelly beans in any jar, the exact size of tupperware needed for any given volume of leftovers, and the price of any consumer product whatsoever. (Which can actually be really annoying, when I see an outrageous price and ask him, “Guess how much this is?” and he gets it right to the nearest dollar.) One of these days we will get him on the Price is Right and I will get the collection of home appliances I can only dream of.

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