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What's with the beard?

Superior Telegram photographer poses with his "baby beard" at 36 weeks. Carlson's wife, Jenny, is due with the couple's first child on March 26th and Carlson has been growing out his beard since they first heard the child's heartbeat. (Jenny Carlson for the Superior Telegram)

The countdown has started. My wife has a big sheet in our living room with "four weeks" written on it. Each Monday another week comes down.

My wife thinks it's all about awaiting our little arrival, but lately I've been waiting for a departure.

It seemed like such a good idea at first. My wife was going to go through some physical changes that we planned to photograph every couple of weeks, so I thought up an idea to join her. As her belly grew so would my beard. I call it my "Baby Beard."

Think of it as an extreme playoff beard. Players in the National Hockey League have made the playoff beard popular since the 1980s. During each team's run, the players let their beards grow until they're out of the playoffs; so the further the team goes, the hairier the faces get.

I had visions in my mind of growing a great beard like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Brett Keisel, the San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson, MMA fighter Kimbo Slice, the St. Louis Cardinals' former pitcher Bruce Sutter or even legendary outdoorsman Grizzly Adams.

So Sept. 7, Jenny and I went into the doctor's office and heard our son's heartbeat for the first time. When we got home my razor went in the trash can.

The plan seemed simple enough, just don't shave -- period. However, I soon had to amend the rules to make trimming the moustache acceptable. Turns out when your moustache reaches a certain length it finds its way into your mouth every time you eat. I could only chomp on so much moustache before I had to fix it.

The beard itched a little bit, but nothing too irritating. Most people thought I was getting an early start on a Northland tradition, the hunting beard.

Hunting season came and went and the beard slowly took over my face. When we went to my parent's house for Christmas my mom repeatedly asked if I needed to borrow my dad's electric shaver. Growing a beard in the winter seemed like a useful move, but winter forgot to cooperate.

But it's turned into somewhat of a quest for me now. Each time I explain the concept of the baby beard and hear the doubts people have about going all the way through with it, it kind of fuels me to keep going. Whether it's stubbornness or foolishness I'll see it through; I've only got four weeks left.

Along the journey I've learned a few reasons why playoff beards are not regular season beards:

• The itchy feeling doesn't go away. You would think it does, but it's always itchy.

• Morning preparation time increases. I've always been a short-hair guy. I haven't had to comb my hair to get ready for my day since I was in seventh grade in 1991. But now with my facial 'fro I actually have to comb my face in the morning. My face gets bed head.

• Showering takes longer. Shampoo now goes in my hair and on my face. Then when I get out of the shower my beard forms squid-like tentacles that hang from my jaw until dried and combed out.

• Beware certain foods. Ice cream, soup, anything with frosting on it, and all sorts of delicious treats are apparently drawn to the magnetic field radiating from my beard. Gone are the days when I would go to almost any local sporting event and enjoy a nice batch of pre-game or halftime nachos. When your beard gets to a certain length you must use the "buddy system" while eating. "Hey Buddy, do I have anything in my beard?"

• Be aware that good natured ribbing is coming your way. Multiple times I've been asked if any birds are nesting in the beard. The term Unabomber gets tossed around more than you would think. A man I didn't even know asked me if I was going to be former WWE wrestler, Hillbilly Jim, for Halloween next year.

The end is now in sight, a razor at the end of the tunnel. As Jenny and I prepare our house for the arrival of our son in late March, I secretly plan for disappearance of the beard. I do want to get a couple of photos of my son and me with the beard, just so he can see what his dad was up to before he came into the world.

So the countdown continues, and excitement fills the Carlson house. I'm just not sure what my wife is more excited about, our son arriving or the beard departing?