At our September 2016 theme “Nashville,” Laura Cockman shared the following story of how she finally got her parents to visit her in Nashville. 

Instead of having an advice-dispensing angel or devil on my shoulder, I have reality tv show hosts. They rotate in and out of advice duties based on what I need at the time. So when I was trying to decide where to go to college, it was the host of Survivor who said, “move from the midwest down to Nashville! It’ll be an adventure!” The tribe had spoken. I moved.

I’m about as adventurous as a bear in 39-Nashvillehibernation. I’m the kind of introvert who puts “alone time” in her calendar, the kind who intends to use the money I’ll definitely win from my future successful run on Survivor to buy a house on a mountain to fulfill my dreams of living isolated from everyone else. You can see why Survivor is my favorite show: a way to win win money while incrementally becoming more and more alone? Sign me up.

The reality show hosts on my shoulder tell me this may just make me the biggest loser, but I’m ok with it.

Not to be outdone by my introversion are my parents, who, when they last moved, or rather, re-moved themselves from everyone, relocated to a house surrounded by dirt for more than a mile. This is how you get there: drive up north until you see a cornfield, go through the next cornfield, turn left at a cornfield, make a crazy turn through the – wait for it – soybean field (I told you it’d be crazy), and their house is right next to another cornfield.

They’re sweet homebodies. My parents are such introverts that they barely leave the house; their favorite date night, going back for a decade, has been sitting on the couch watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Yes, their favorite dates are all about other people’s dates.

So all through college and my subsequent decision to stay in Nashville, my parents remained ensconced in their own chosen reality. Their Nashville experience was more Rayna James and Juliette Barnes than Keith Urban or Tim McGraw, and certainly far from my Nashville experience. I’m actually afraid to this day to tell them that we didn’t re-elect Teddy Conrad from the show Nashville as our mayor this past election.

For introverts like this, talking about stories is a great way to connect. My parents write down what they think about our shared shows, and they call me to ask questions. They’re all very sweet, like, “What did you think of last night’s episode?” and “Laura, why haven’t you switched dentists so you can stalk Cupcake Chris from last year’s Bachelorette (more easily)?”

So this past May they called me and said this: “Did you know that there are three Bachelorette contestants from Nashville this year?” And, because I think in reality show tropes, my little voices whispered to me, “This is your chance to make the conversation go the way you want it and align their ideas in your favor. You are this close to winning the immunity necklace, getting the final rose, becoming the head of household.” I convinced them to arrange plans for their first long weekend trip to Nashville.

I’ve got them where I want them at this point. Like any good reality show fangirl trapped in actual reality, I started to think about the future and how I could make my parents’ experience so fun that they’d start planning their next trip back.

“Anything we do will be fun because we’re with you,” my mom assured me.

“But really, I hope we’ll see a celebrity,” my dad said.

And just like any good reality show, life threw in a twist: my boyfriend told me he was going to be out of town the weekend my parents were coming to visit, and he needed me to watch his dog. How convenient. “You better re-strategize,” the reality shows hosts in my head were telling me, “You’ve got to fit both of these alliances’ needs in now.” I told the voices that it would be ok, that a dog couldn’t vote me out of anything, but I was still a little concerned about accidentally leaving her alone too long and her voting the stuffing out of the couch.

So I reorganized my plans for my parents to allow for several trips across town to take care of the dog between activities. This worked out well, actually, because it allowed them some down time to relax in between going out into the world. But, my dad noted while relaxing between meals and museums, he hadn’t seen anybody famous yet, other than, of course, the dog I famously talked on and on about over the phone.

They came to love her as much as I do. Saturday morning, my parents woke up excited to take the dog for a morning walk. We spent the walk talking about their first hot chicken experiences, and my mom offered to hold the dog’s leash, remarking on how well-behaved she was on the walk. We all decided to go to the dog store and get her a treat afterward.

The three of us go to this tiny dog store on the east side near my boyfriend’s house, and I make a beeline for the giant antler toys. I lean down and start to pick one up, and all of a sudden, I’m being licked by a big bloodhound who’s snuck up on me.

“Hey, sweetie,” I say to the dog, and I glance upward at the owner to ask if I can pet him. And there I see it. A tall, tan, familiar face, one that my parents have been talking about for months: Wells Adams, Bachelorette contestant.

The reality show hosts in my head start screaming at me.

“Ask him if he’s still dating Ashley from his stint on Bachelor in Paradise!” one shouts.

“No,” yells another, “that show hasn’t even premiered yet! Then he’ll know you stalk Bachelor contestants online, and all the rest of them will find out, and then you’ll never get to have your teeth cleaned by a Bachelorette contestant dentist!”

“Just say hi to his dog, call him by name – Carl – and tell Carl that you follow him on Instagram!”

“Just ask him if you can pet the dog and play it cool.”

“Act now or you’ll be voted off the island! – I mean – the dog store!”

I couldn’t act. The barking in my head was louder than any in the dog store, and so I did what any good introvert would do. I looked toward my parents for a solution. This was a mistake. My parents’, who had previously been waiting by the door, heads had turned, Exorcist-style, to stare at their authentic Nashville reality star.

I walked up to the checkout line, feeling stupid and starstruck, and bought the antler. When I turned around, the rest of my parents’ bodies had caught up, and they were full-on staring at Wells.

“Get in the car, but don’t leave yet,” said my dad, “We have to watch.”

We sat in the car and watched Wells and Carl leave the store.

“He has decent taste in cars, very reasonable,” said my mom.

“He has beautiful eyes,” said my dad.

“I’m so glad we came to Nashville,” they decided.

“This is what it’s really like. This is what you get to experience all the time, isn’t it, sweetie? This is magical.”

Just like that, after years of convincing my parents to take a weekend trip, weeks planning and replanning where to take them so that they’d come back again, hours spent walking the dog with them and hoping they weren’t bored, we spent less than five minutes in a dog store, and my parents declared those few minutes their true, authentic Nashville experience. Now, they call often and ask about my “good friend Wells.”

If this trip were a date on The Bachelor, I think they would have have given it the first impression rose.

They’re already planning their next trip back.

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