Monday, May 30, 2016

There Is Crying in Tee-Ball

My 5-year-old son turned to me as he laid on his mother’s pillow a few weeks back, his eyes wide and one arm tucked behind his head, and he posed a hope-filled question.

“Do you think I’ll hit a homerun?”
He was talking about his fast-approaching first day of tee-ball, and the question made me smile.

“Most little boys don’t hit homeruns on their first day,” I replied, trying to dampen his expectations without crushing his dream.
He raised the stakes. “What if I hit the ball and it goes out of the stadium?”

I laughed gently, “Do you think there’s going to be a stadium?”
He nodded.

What I wouldn’t give to swim around in his little brain, brimming with out-sized notions of the world and an imagination not yet tainted by reality.
It was a sweet moment.

It’s been a few weeks since our homerun chat, and the sweetness has begun to wear off of tee-ball’s flavor profile.

It feels like tee-ball is our life. That’s a total exaggeration, but with two games each weekend it certainly takes up more than its share of our lives currently. The first game of the weekend is Saturdays at 6 p.m., the second Sunday at 1 p.m., making it physically impossible to do anything else significant on the weekend without skipping out on his team. In my book, no sport should take up both days of the weekend unless there are college scouts in attendance.
Our little Yankee, taking a
water break between innings.
It’s really a bit much, especially the Saturday night game. These are 4 and 5-year-olds, after all. The evening game ends after half their bedtimes. 
I've found myself sitting there wondering what it’s all for?

No body’s keeping score. There’s no concept of strikes, let alone outs. And, any semblance of positions in the field immediately collapses whenever anyone hits it beyond the pitcher’s mound and all the infielders and most of the outfielders race for the ball like a pack of wild dogs, climbing on top of each other in a scrum, while the bewildered batter stands there admiring their hit until a parent yells, “Run to first.” Then said hitter saunters off to first base – sometimes by way of third base – and a well-meaning coach yells at the pile of fielders, “Throw the ball to first.”
When the ball finally gets thrown to the first baseman, who remarkably didn’t join the mob chasing the ball, it bounces at his feet and rolls out of play. He eventually picks it up and, upon verbal instructions, throws it home, so it can be re-teed and the next batter can take a whack.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a blast watching kid after kid hit infield singles until the whole line up has a chance to bat and the inning ends, over and over again. But I often wonder, as our whole family sits there, why exactly we signed up for this tee-ball adventure?
I mean, I know why we signed up for it: The boy asked if he could play baseball, and it seemed like the logical first step. He’s always loved the thought of the sport, even deciding at 3-weeks-old that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was the only song that would stop him from bawling.   
But why in a grander, more metaphysical sense. Like why does tee-ball exist at all? Other than learning which direction to run around the bases? Are the kids really getting anything out of it?
Nobody pitches (which is good because these kids couldn’t throw a strike to save their lives). Nobody catches (a fact I was delighted to realize after a preseason panic attack when I worried my son was the only 5-year-old in America who couldn’t catch … he’s not). Strikes and balls and outs will be introduced later (In fact, even if infielders are lucky enough to gather the ball and get it to first before the runner, the runner stays on base). And they only play 2 to 3 innings (which somehow still feels like 9 innings). When it ends, everyone decides to go for ice cream, which is what they really wanted to do in the first place.
Couldn’t we just distribute a packet of rules and diagrams to the parents and agree to meet back in a few years, once the whole hand-eye coordination thing starts to take hold?
Do we do it just for the pictures? Cause, I’ll admit, they do look pretty darn cute dressed up like real life baseball players. I learned this when they scheduled the team pictures for the second week of the season. And we’re not talking about soccer team pictures where everyone just gathers in front of the goal after a game – usually toward the end of the season. No, this is the real deal of team pictures, with forms to fill out saying how many of different sized photos you want in your expensive photo package. And don’t forget the baseball card style wallet-sized ones.
I’m sorry, but having played only one game in his career before picture day, what exactly should the back of this rookie card say? He’s batting 1000, but still learning to catch?
I also learned something else at team picture day: that a full plastic bottle of water can work as an emergency eye wash. All you have to do is have the patient look into the bottle, then give it a quick and vigorous squeeze. It totally works, trust me.
An explanation seems in order.
Brief aside:

We arrived at team picture day to find all the other players in the league waiting in a long line that snaked out the door of the village recreation building. Our whole team wasn’t there yet.  So, we had some time to kill. My child decided to spend this time climbing a small flowing tree with two other kids from his team.
Then, something went in his eye, and he started crying. No. Screaming. Like blood curdling, “MY EYE! MY EYE! THERE”S SOMETHING IN MY EYE!” type stuff. It unraveled everyone in the line in an instant. I took him to the bathroom, trying to flush out the eye with my hand and the faucet water. I laid him down on a table, then on the sidewalk, then on the ground, all the while trying to examine the eye and pour a paper cup of water in it. I couldn’t get him to stop screaming. This was snot-bubbling and whaling-arms-when-he-wasn’t-restrained type screaming.
An eye doctor happened to be there with her tee-baller and came over to consult and console. She couldn’t see anything in the eye, and said was likely scratched. I, however, could tell by his fluctuating screams that whatever was there was still there. I’m not a doctor, just a parent.  
So, I devised a plan. (They say necessity is the mother of invention). I remembered I had some plastic water bottles in the car. They were warm, unopened, and just a parking lot away. I ran like Usain Bolt while my boy’s big sister kept him still on the ground for me. Once back with a water bottle, I had him look into it, which took some convincing. Then I quick squeezed it, rushing water into his eye and all over his face and clothes. At first he screamed louder, slightly shocked by my move. Then, within five seconds, he magically said, “It feels better.”
Whatever it was, it was out.
Time had passed during the eye episode and, as it turned out, his team was just lining up for their official photo in the makeshift studio with the professional photographer’s lights. We rushed him in and he took his place. He’s the one in the photo with the drenched jersey and the look like he just finished a 20-minute scream.  
Needless to say, we didn’t order the wallet-sized ones.
Aside over.
The photo was just one of the less-than-sweet episodes in our young season that has now included a game played in 42 degree rain (the local minor league baseball team cancelled their game that day, but we played on), a game in 90+ degree sun, and a few more Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons in between.
I love watching my kid "bat," for sure, but when did tee-ball get so bad?
I remember playing the sport when I was a kid, and loving the cheering crowd, and the thrill of being at bat. Come to think of it, I really remember the feeling of making it to home base … usually after a series of infield singles by me and my teammates.
It’s starting to make sense again.
Now there’s an update to this one tee-ball story.
This past weekend our boy hit a home run. Actually, he hit two in the same game. And not just any home runs, but grand slams. (Full disclosure: the last batter at bat every inning gets to circle the bases, with all the other runners on base also getting to go home – most even run the right direction. They call it a home run. And so do we).
He got picked to bat last in the game, hitting the ball both times roughly near the pitchers mound, and then circling the bases all the way home.
When it was over, I congratulated him, “You hit a home run, buddy,”
“No,” he replied. “I hit two.”
I smiled deeply.
Tee-ball is such a sweet sport.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Two 7th Graders Read Poem on Feminism at Talent Show and Blow the Crowd Away

When you go to a middle school talent show, you expect a few things. You expect to hear some kids playing the piano. You expect a few aspiring soloists or hip-hop hopefuls to sing songs. You know there will be dancing. And there will be various levels of talent, all worthy of applause and encouragement.

But you don't expect to be blown away by two Seventh Graders reading a poem they wrote themselves.

In fact, when you see "Poetry Recital -- Feminism Slam" in the program, you might even think, meh.

And then it happens.

By Maisie Ruddy and Aine Hoye

Boys will be boys
She was asking for it
Are you sure you want to eat that?
You run like a girl

When I was 8 a boy told me I didn’t know how to play soccer
Because I was a girl.
When I was 9 my dream of being the first
Female president was crushed
By a boy who told me
"Girls just aren't meant for that stuff"

When I was 7 I was told you ran like a girl,
I didn't  know that was an insult.
When I was 10 my friend got kicked off the kickball team,
Even though she tried,
Because she played like a girl.
She cried.

"No spaghetti straps."
"Skirts must reach mid thigh."
I don't mean to pry,
But why?
These codes, they hurt my brain.
I didn't realize my shoulders caused you so much pain.
Is his education more important than mine?
There are schools that commit these actions,

Did you hear about that girl
She walked into school
they looked her up and down
and told her;
"You are a distraction"

"Hey baby,"
"Can't you just take a compliment?"
I'm sorry,
Do you think you're being a gent?
Well here's my two cents:
Women are people too,
People like you make me ill
And to think,
That some women would kill
To be like me,
To be free...
But are we?

We work ourselves tired,
And yet
These men are wired
To take our rightful credit.
They said that we have nothing to show,

but we do not know the name of the
15 year old girl
Who got the man
To the moon.
The women of the past have always been doomed.
They will never get their credit,
Thanks to history,
The true owners of these inventions
Will remain a mystery.

Flat stomachs,
Thigh gap.
Get rid of the fat.
Do you know what's sick?
The amount of women who are anorexic.
1 in 200.
Sound small?
Let me rephrase that,
1,594,500 women in the U.S. alone are sick because society puts these images in their heads.

So yes,
I'm a feminist,
I'm a feminist with pride.
And with every stride I will strive for their rights.
And if it sounds like I'm starting a fight
Then all right, I'll take it.
These men are telling us our cans and can’ts.
So I'm putting out a hand
For all the women who cannot
Stand with their voice,
Because they have no choice.
You will not silence us.

And I can assure you,
She wasn't asking for it.
All I could say was "wow." The place erupted, with parents and students coming up to them after amazed at their courage, their performance, and their talent.
These kids are going to do good stuff some day -- and may have already. To steal a line from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the world is gonna know their names.
Full disclosure -- more like bragging -- one of these two strong young ladies is my daughter.
Here’s another story you may enjoy: Finally, A Ninja To Inspire My Little Girls, Alexander, My Daughter and Me, and Cute and Pink to the Left, Cool and Blue to the Right.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Golden Egg vs. the Golden Rule

A light bulb went on above the little boy’s head as he scanned the yard and realized where the Golden Egg likely was. He’s just five years old, and his bag of eggs was half as full as the other kids. Yet suddenly, he knew where the last, most sought-after, most well-hidden egg just had to be.

He darted across the grassy expanse toward an overturned plant pot tucked under a tree. Others saw his movement, realized what he must be thinking, and began to follow.

Arriving at the pot, he bent down and lifted it, revealing the glint of gold. A smile erupted across his face.

Just as he reached for the Golden Egg, an eight-year-old girl nearly twice his size knocked him over and swiped it from in front of his outstretched hand.

“I got the Golden Egg!” she exclaimed.

My wife and I witnessed this violation of all things good and decent, and we rushed over to set it straight.

It reminded me of the stories making the rounds this time of year about nasty adults and their selfish kids ruining some well-intended community egg hunt, storming fields and knocking over toddlers to get more eggs, which are usually filled with crappy candy and worthless coupons for half-off your next oil change. We read the stories and think: how classless can people be? We dismiss it as examples of bad-parenting, spoiled children, and entitlement. Who are those people, anyway, who will seemingly do anything for a handful of free candy or a Golden Egg?

There’s only one problem with the scene I witnessed with the boy, the girl and the Golden Egg: the kids were both mine.

The mad dash for plastic eggs has begun.
It happened at our annual family egg hunt we hold in the back yard of their grandmother’s house. There were just four kids involved, all my offspring, tasked with finding some 50 pastel, plastic eggs, most containing coins and candy. The Golden Egg – hidden better then the rest – always has a bit more. It’s a fun little tradition, and we’d never had any fights. Maybe some disappointed kids when someone else found the big egg, but no major breaches in etiquette and certainly no brawls. Until this time.

My wife and I immediately stepped in and scolded the older sister for knocking her little brother over and taking the egg he’d rightfully found.

She was incredulous. She grabbed it first! It was her egg! It’s not fair!

But he’s the one who found it, we said. You just grabbed it.

She didn’t see what was wrong with her actions, and my heart sank a bit. Then she started crying hysterically as her brother was handed the egg he’d found, wiping his own tears away and regaining the remnants of his smile.

For the record, our 8-year-old daughter is an exceptionally sweet kid. She’s funny and kind. She makes a point to hug everyone goodbye every time they leave the house, and she’s the one who advocates on behalf of all the spiders and stinkbugs I have to remove the premises, urging me to set them free rather than just squishing them like I’m apt to.

She also happens to be the third in a family of four kids, and has likely been pushed and knocked over herself a few times – not just in life, but earlier in the very same egg hunt. Growing up in a bigger family can be a combat sport. If anything, the episode was the culmination of an egg hunt that had gotten more aggressive than us parents were comfortable with, as kids dove for eggs like they were fumbled footballs. It was ultimately my fault for not enforcing the ground rules earlier.

She’s just a kid, too -- a kid who wanted a darn Golden Egg.

Despite making excuses for her, you can bet we used the incident as a chance to teach about being kind to others, and also about being fair, which probably confused her because she thought she was in the right, and because my lessons on fairness often sounds more like “Whoever said life was fair?” That’s my standard refrain whenever a kid complains that something isn’t fair. Fortunately she didn’t spit it back at me.

In my time as a parent, I’ve found that most kids are acutely aware of this notion of fairness – even if they have a skewed view of what it means.  It’s like we have an instinctual sense that things should be fair.

Understanding what “fair” actually means presents challenges, though, for kids and adults alike. It has nothing to do with getting what you want just because you think you deserve it. It’s more complicated. And, it’s true, somethings in life are inherently unfair. That’s just the way is. Others are unfair and call out to be fixed. Knowing the difference -- when there is one -- can be difficult.

It’s also hard to understand what accounts for a fair result when the results can themselves be so skewed. One kid got the Golden Egg. Three others did not. Is that fair? It doesn’t seem so to an eight year old. But that’s what we’ve always done. That’s the game. Thems the rules.

Which leads to more tough lessons for a kid to understand having to do with the balance between fairness and competition.

I know we’re talking about an egg hunt and not the Olympics here, but as parents, we all want our kids to be strong enough to succeed, to have the will to compete, and to learn to take care of themselves. Competition can teach this. Even competitions for plastic eggs. But we also want them to look out for the weak, to be unselfish, and to never be greedy. It’s a balance.

My wife and I could have watched the Golden Egg scene unfold and shrugged, complimenting the sister for her tenacity and telling the boy he should have grabbed it quicker. But that doesn’t seem right, does it? I want my kids to be tough, but I don't want them to think they can step on people to get what they want.

What’s not right, either, is what happens at those big, awful egg hunts. And when we see adults pushing past kids to fill their own child’s baskets, it’s easy to look down on them. Yet, in so many other ways, modern life rewards selfishness and greed over fairness and equity. In other arenas, we celebrate those who have excess and hold subtle disdain for those who’ve lost and have nothing. We call it survival of the fittest, or just business. Why does it strike us so differently when we see it happen on a field full of kids and dumb Easter eggs?

After our own egg hunt incident, I began to think what we did wrong and what we could do differently. Maybe it was the fact we only have one Golden Egg and four kids, setting up a classic battle for scarce resources. Of course, if we eliminate the Golden Egg next year, we’d also take away some of the joy of this particular egg hunt. On the other hand, if we have four golden eggs, it certainly wouldn’t  be as fun.  And how do we guarantee each kid finds one unless we fix the results? Why not just hand out the eggs? We don’t because even the littlest kids like the accomplishment of finding the eggs themselves, against the odds.

For me, it’s not about changing our egg hunt, or sheltering our kids from all forms of competition, or rigging it so that they always win. It comes down to teaching kids what fairness actually means and how to recognize it.

This talk of Golden Eggs reminds me of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. That’s fairness in an eggshell. And that’s the best lesson for my kids, and for anyone who struggles with notions of fairness, competition, selfishness and greed.

It’s true that life isn’t always fair. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever be.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Learning Lessons from a Little Boy, One Smiling Moment -- The Truth Behind an Okay Photo, and To the Lost Little Girl in DC: Watching You Find Your Mom Made My Day.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Simple Phrase that Inspires This Dad to Run

This is not a story about weight loss -- unfortunately. Nor is it a fitness how-to. I’m not the right person to write that. This is simply about one dad’s motivation to get through his workout.

Like many adults, I’ve struggled with those extra pounds over the years. And, like most parents, part of the problem has been finding the time and energy to fit in a fitness regimen. The other part of the problem is that I love food, but that’s a separate story.
My doctor has a rather poignant cartoon on the wall in his exam rooms. It’s a simple drawing that shows a doctor talking to a slightly overweight, mid-aged patient by cartoonist Randy Glasbergen. The caption reads, “What fits your busy schedule better, exercising one hour a day or being dead twenty-four hours a day?”
A few years back, seeing that cartoon enough times, I committed to doing what I could to not end up dead too soon, because my schedule really couldn’t handle that.
I started hitting the gym a few days a week, going the only time I could: before the kids wake up. That means, on a workout day, I have to be out the door around 5:30 a.m., so I can be back home by 6:45ish.
There have been good and bad spells over the years, but I keep going back and reaffirming the commitment.
I’ve also tried various workouts in that time – spin bikes, ellipticals, weights, and treadmills, and combinations of those. All can work, I’m sure, but what has helped most is to run on the treadmill. I know this because when I run consistently, I see the weight drop off and the belt loosen.
There’s only one problem: running is hard.
As one runner friend said to me, in the first few minutes of a run, your body enters a period of shock, essentially saying, what the heck are you doing to me? To run is all about hitting that wall and pushing through it. And then doing that over and over again.
I’m not a natural runner. I don’t have a thin frame or a particularly smooth gait. I’ve found the only way to get the time on the treadmill I need to have an impact on my health is with a dose of motivation. That’s the only way to push through when my body just wants me to stop. The problem is that some of the typical motives other people use don’t work for me. I don’t really care how I look in a bathing suit. I’m married and have kids, any pride based on narcissism evaporated when we bought our second minivan. And I’m not training for a marathon. I truly don’t have time for that.
Yet, I do have one thing that motivates me.
A few years ago, I started saying a little phrase to myself which helps me get through that next wall. Heck, it even helps me get out of bed and to the gym some days.
The phrase is this: “I run so I can walk.”
It may sound like a slogan for a geriatric commercial, but it’s not.
You see, I have three daughters.
As a dad, I have a lot of jobs I have to do for them and their brother – making school lunches, picking them up places, preparing dinner, reading bedtime stories, and all the other parenting stuff we do each day without even thinking about it.
But I think about that cartoon and about not being dead too soon, and I know there is one job I have in my future as a dad of daughters that I simply cannot miss. And it involves walking with them.
Who the heck knows if any of my daughters are even going to get married? As long as they’re happy, I really don’t care. I’m really not one to think much about such things, and I certainly don’t want them thinking about that stuff either – despite Disney’s efforts to make that every girl’s obsession. There’s really no pressure here.
But chances are that one of them will get married. And, if it happens, I better damn well be there to do my job.
For me, the phrase has become more than about some fanciful day off in the future that may or may not happen. It’s about being there for them every day I can, for as long as I can: For the walks on the beach, for the hikes in the woods, for the strolls at the park, for the random moments I cannot yet imagine. I want to be there, walking through it with them, until it’s not my job anymore.
When I am running and I hit that wall, “I run so I can walk” is all the motivation this dad needs.
Now if I could just find a phrase that can prevent me from eating so much.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Learning Lessons from a Little Boy, One Smiling Moment -- The Truth Behind an Okay Photo, and To the Lost Little Girl in DC: Watching You Find Your Mom Made My Day.

Monday, March 14, 2016

That Time I Spoiled My Child for Every Concert in Her Future

Here’s the good news: I finally got my hearing back. It took a few days for the ringing to end, and, in that time, I read a lot about a thing called tinnitus. But now I can hear again. Though let’s be honest, I haven’t heard very well for years – just ask my wife.

The bad news: I’ve ruined my recently-turned teenager for every concert she attends from now on until the end of time, short of some show where she gets actual front row seats and backstage passes.

We didn’t get front row seats or backstage passes when we went to see Fall Out Boy as a birthday gift and her first real concert ever about a week ago. But our seats were good. Very good.

I’ve been going to concerts my whole dang life, and these were the best seats I’ve ever had. Ever.

Usually, I’m a lawn seat kind of guy. Occasionally I’ll end up somewhere in the rafters, depending on the venue and the demand for the artist. A few times, when I was a bit younger, I went and fought the general admission crowds – that’s how I got briefly in the front of the mob for a Spin Doctors’ song. They were opening for one of those multi-band tours, I believe, and my moment in the sun ended when the mosh pit shifted and convulsed and spit me out ten bodies back.

One time I got into a luxury box for a show at the Cap Centre: Beastie Boys, I recall. (I didn’t pay for those tickets). That was a heck-of-a long time ago. Pretty cool way to watch a show, but not very close to the stage. Kind of subdued, really.
Fall Out Boy, Wintour Is Coming, March 2016, Syracuse.
Our recent trip to see Fall Out Boy was anything but subdued. We were close. Damn close. Too close, almost. Too close for my ears, for sure. But also too close for my daughter’s first real concert ever and for her concert-going sense of perspective. I think I definitely may have spoiled her.
These weren’t front row seats, mind you. And when I bought them, I had no idea how good the tickets were. The seats were off to one side of the stage and five rows back. Which, I figured would be just okay. They weren’t all that expensive, either. But, considering the angles and slope of the rows, the seats turned out to be the absolute perfect distance and height for the stage setup FOB uses on this tour – which is a giant V that cuts into the crowd, including elevated ramps literally a few yards from our screaming faces.
It wasn’t until we walked through the guarded doors to our section, stepped through the black curtain and up a few steps that we realized how absolutely, ridiculously close we were to the action -- and to the gigantic speakers. My daughter gasped with an “OMG” or something hipper and more recent that I couldn’t decipher; then she hugged the friend she’d brought along, while my eardrums let out a little whimper.
She’s ruined for sure. She doesn’t understand that most people don’t get to be that close, or that most times you attend a concert you’re better off looking at the Jumbotron if you want to see the sweat rolling down the bassist’s face. She’s liable to think that at every concert you’re able to count the strings on the guitar, feel the heat from the pyrotechnics, and read the tattoos on the drummer’s chest.
She’s totally screwed. More likely, every person who ever attends a concert with her again is screwed. Every person who ever calls her and says, I scored some ticket to some show. I can hear it now: “This is great, but one time we were like practically on the stage for a Fall Out Boy concert.”
It didn’t hurt that the band put on a great performance, mixing an array of their hits with lesser known but equally solid songs. It also didn’t hurt that the sold-out crowd, filled with teens, their formerly-cool parents, and tons of people in-between, soaked it up and sang along like it was the last concert on earth. And, for a few hours, it did feel like the center of the modern rock-n-roll universe.
For the record, my daughter was there.
But you know what else? I was there to witness it.
I did spoil my daughter that night. And I also saw a great show – probably the best I’ve seen since I saw Springsteen or the Stones more than a decade ago in DC. What I’ll remember, though, isn’t the sweat or the sound, but the look of joy on her face, the excitement with which she belted her favorite band’s songs, the tears she shed when they played that one ballad she loves so much, and the number of times her and her friend jumped and screamed and sang because that’s all they wanted to do.
Isn't that why we occasionally spoil our kids? Because we want them to be happy? Because we want to see them happy? That night, she was happy.
And you know what, maybe it won’t ruin her at all. Maybe, after this, she’ll be determined to fill her heart and her head with equally rewarding experiences, musical and otherwise. Maybe she’ll appreciate the uniqueness and the specialness of this concert, and every one she ever attends. Maybe she’ll look back with a special fondness on her first concert ever, and maybe she’ll remember that her dad was there too.
It’s been a full week since the show. My hearing has more or less returned. My daughter has lost all perspective. And I don’t regret any of it.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Ramblings of a Teenager’s Father

Yesterday my oldest daughter became a teenager. She’s been teetering on the edge for a few years, and now it’s official. The dark and brooding years are upon us. May she arise some day unscathed.

And tonight, I’m taking her and a friend to her first real concert: Fall Out Boy. That’s the band I famously called “Fall Out Guy” to another parent in an ill-conceived effort to look cool a few months ago. The mom quickly corrected me, and I laughed because I am so beyond being cool it’s helpless. But I digress.

My wife and I are parents of a teenager. How did this happen? I don’t know.

But her turning 13 and going to this concert reminded me of a few paragraphs I wrote two months ago and then tucked back into my computer documents file unfinished and uncertain. Here it is.

The white dashes flash by to the approximate beat of the Fall Out Boy album blasting from my empty minivan’s speakers. I’ve grown to like FOB in recent months as I prepare for a planned concert I’ll be attending with my daughter at a future day. They remind me of the bands I liked on the periphery of my musical tastes when I was younger. Worth a listen.

I’m traveling alone this night, a rare treat. Heading to the in-laws in Pennsylvania. Meeting my wife there, who has been in Washington working for a few days. The kiddos are left behind, being watched by their other grandparents.
Our trip has a purpose: to help my wife’s parents tie up the loose ends on the selling of the little store they've owned for 27 years.

27 years.
Clearly, my obsession with the passage of time has yet to abate.

I’ve always found it interesting how an hour on the road can creep by when that’s the length of the trip. And yet the same hour can fly by when it's part of a three hour trip. And, when part of a ten hour trip, the hours can click by like the lines in the middle of the road.
I guess time is relative, and you don’t need complicated formulas to see it.

Despite warnings from my elders, I’ve been truly amazed at how the years do click by faster and faster as you get older. The holidays upon us each year before you can blink. The adage “Boy, this year is flying by” said with more earnestness and sincerity each time. 
The whole of my youth stands in my mind as a millennia compared to the decades packed on since college. Yet the memories of both fade.

There’s a line from the Jimmy Buffet song, He Went To Paris, that used to confound me. It’s on the Margaritaville album, which anyone who’s spent time dreaming has listened to in its entirety countless times. Not my favorite song from the album, but it grows on you. The song chronicles the bulk of someone’s life, saying at one point, “And four to five years slipped away.”
I used to think, how can four to five years slip away?

Now I know.  

If nothing else, this dumb blog thing has helped me put into writing some of the precious experiences (and not so precious).  More and more, I think I need to do that, as the potential memories evaporate like dreams you neglect to talk about the morning after.
I joke with my eldest child that my mind isn’t what it used to be. Words don’t come as easily to my lips, and memories from last week slip through the crack before they make it to the long term file. I worry sometimes that I have early onset something-or-other. But I think it’s just life.

Then again, I haven’t written as much lately. Which only I notice, really. So there’s no need to apologize. I have a new job I’m enjoying and use the rest of my free time to eat with my family and sleep.
The other day, someone mentioned they saw something I wrote somewhere, and then cocked their head and asked how I liked the new job. I told the truth, that I like it a lot. I get to do good work.

It made me think about that question we all ask each other, what do you do? It’s a simple curiosity, but it’s also kind of profound how we use it to put people and their lives in a box. But it’s never that easy, is it? 
In the eighties there was an old show called Taxi. For some reason we watched it often and mourned when it got canceled. I remember one thing about it in particular. In their minds, none of the taxi drivers were actually taxi drivers. They were struggling actors, aspiring boxers, and other dream chasers. All except Alex, who’d come to grips with the notion he was just a taxi driver. And that was enough. He was okay with it.

I think about my answers to that question over the years: a journalist, a speechwriter, a chief of staff, a political consultant, a public relations consultant, a freelance writer, an adjunct. I've always struggled with this question, both asking it and answering it. I always just want to say writer. But that's rarely been true.

Maybe I don't like boxes. Maybe I'm just not okay with it.

Like I said, it was unfinished and uncertain.

More recently I went to a writers’ convention that I’ve mentioned before. One of the main speakers talked about legacy. He referenced that same question. What do you do? And he put that question in its place when he said this: Nobody cares about your resume when you’re gone. Your impact on this world is so much more important than just what you do for a living. It’s what you do in everything else that often matters more. And, most important, what you leave behind.

That’s what he said, anyway. It spoke to me as the parent to some amazing kids. Kids who are growing up too fast and becoming interesting, curious and complicated people way before my wife and I are ready. They are going to be my legacy.
Tonight I get to take one of them to a concert.

How did my wife and I become parents to a teenager? I don’t know. We just did. The white dashes keep passing by.

And I’m okay with it.

Like the article?  Here's others you may enjoy: New Year, Few Expectations, One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, New Fish and Kid Quotes from a Family Hike.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Finding Our Version of Perfect a Few Rows Down

My son walked through the tunnel connecting the upper concourse and the actual arena and paused as he took in the massive space that is the largest college basketball stadium in the country.  

“Whoa,” he muttered.  Whoa is right.

The boy's first glance at the Dome.
It was this five-year-old little boy’s first visit to Syracuse University's Carrier Dome. And, it was an awesome sight to behold: a world within a building, with a bulbous white roof like a puffy cloud arched over a coliseum big enough to hold 50,000 people and an entire football field, to boot.

For basketball games, they only use half the stadium, tucking a court into the one end. But the whole space is still there before you. And it’s immense.

All four of the kids stopped at the railing at the end of the tunnel and just gazed at the sight before them. We were three levels up, which added an element of height to the view as well. Our 8-year-old daughter, who happens to be afraid of heights, stood less close to the railing than the others. And while the dome looked bigger than they expected, I’m sure the court looked a bit smaller.

Then we turned away from the railing and showed our tickets to the usher. He pointed up the steep concrete stairs toward the rafters.

“Whoa,” I mumbled.  Whoa is right.

One of the older kids look at me as their expression of amazement, turned to disappointment. And it was then I knew I’d screwed up. On the day weeks before when I planned this rare family outing, my intuitive frugality – a.k.a. my tendency to be a cheap ass – had steered me toward more affordable tickets. And now, the usher was steering us to the cheap seats.


You learn pretty early on as a parent that perfection is impossible. It’s never more true than when it comes to the plans you make for you and your family. I’m not talking about the big plans, like where you’re going to be in five years. But the small plans, like what are we going to do this Saturday.

You can make all the plans you want, and envision all the perfect outcomes. When reality happens, one unforeseen variable can turn the whole affair on its head. Often that variable is out of your control: an unexpected toddler meltdown, an unsuspected stomach bug. Life has no shortage of flat tires. But, occasionally, the unforeseen variable was seeable. And you just ignored it because you’re dense, or overly optimistic, or cheap.

The day we went to the Dome for a basketball game started out pretty well. We decked ourselves in Orange and then piled into the van to make our way to the stadium. The excitement was palpable. For two of our children, it would be the first time to an SU game. For the rest of us, it was the first time we were going with the entire family.

I’d made the plan for this family outing to the Dome around Christmas. I’d picked a game on a Saturday against a lesser ACC opponent – as in not Duke or Carolina. Then I bought six tickets. It wasn’t cheap.

The plan felt perfect. I’d looked forward to it for weeks. Then reality arrived.
Picture it: A husband, a wife and four kids sitting on a cold, hard bench in the nose bleed section of the Carrier Dome, with row upon row of empty, cushioned seats between them and the third level railing. Picture, too, a miniature basketball court in the distance, complete with small ants in warmup suits doing what looked like lay-up drills. It was hard to tell.
Did I mention the 14 rows of seats between us and the third level overlook were all cushioned … and empty. Cushioned seats; all empty.
After the usher pointed us up the concrete staircase, one of the “glass-half-full” kids in our family saw the orange and white cushions and exclaimed, “Cushions! Yes!”
That lifted my heart momentarily.
Then we began our ascent to section 318, Row N. When we passed Row J, I realized the cushions were ending in a few rows, and it was cold metal from there on.
Row K? Cushions. L? Cushions. M? Cushions. N? No cushions. I could hear the air being let out of my pre-teen daughter’s mouth as she sighed at our cushion-less future.
She, too, was the one who vocalized our collective frustration as tip-off arrived and the seats in front of us remained empty.  “Really?!” she said.
Row M had cushions. It was also a few bucks more.
So, no cushions for us.
I kept smiling, and we did a few family selfies, as prompted by the Jumbotron. Then we tweeted the selfies to an appropriate hashtag to let the whole stadium see how happy we were despite having the worst seats for miles.
I tried to focus for a moment on exactly why I’d dragged the family there. And I knew it wasn’t for the views, or even the game. It was for the memories.
I’m getting older, and the memories of my youth are further and foggier than ever. But I do remember the first time I went to a real baseball game. It was Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Orioles vs. Yankees. I was there. My dad was there. I don’t remember what our seats were like, probably not that great. I come from a 300 section kind of family. It’s just reality.
I also don’t remember many details of that game. Reggie Jackson was in the outfield. And Cal Ripken was probably playing – though that’s kind of cheating. I don’t recall if he was.
The truth is I don’t remember much about it. But I remember it. I remember the feeling it gave me.
That’s what we’re doing with our kids, why we plan so much, and drive so much, and fill our weekends – and most of our weeknights – with adventures and outings. It’s so a handful of those experiences will make it through the great distiller that is childhood memories and that they and us will come out on the other end happier.
And yet, it seemed there was a dearth of happiness in Section 318, Row N of the Carrier Dome that Saturday.
Luckily, I’m married to a woman who knows how to fix such problems. With a break in the basketball action – we knew because the ants all huddled on the sidelines -- she asked the kids if anyone wanted a pretzel. One thing I’ve learned in the many professional and college sporting events I’ve attended since that trip to Memorial Stadium is that the food makes up a quintessential part of the experience.
So, down the steps she went with a couple of kids in tow in search of overpriced pretzels.
I sulked in the seats with the remaining kids and contemplated the benefits of moving down one row into the empty cushioned seats before us. Would the usher notice? Would the kids learn the wrong lesson?  The truth is, most 300 sections let you move down to the better seats once it’s clear nobody’s coming to fill the slightly more expensive rows. Yet I couldn’t muster the will to decide what to do.
Then I saw my wife returning with the pretzels, rounding out of the tunnel to begin her ascent. And she did something brilliant; She sat down in the empty, cushioned row of seats by the railing. The usher didn’t even glance her way. Then she waved at us to come down.
It didn’t take much convincing to move the rest of the kids down to where she was.  It was only 14 rows closer than our seats. But the court was that much bigger, the players that much clearer and the seats that much better.
Suddenly, the kids were into it. The moment I’d planned for had arrived.
Can you guess who we were rooting for?
It helped that the game was a good one, with leads exchanged back and forth, and long shots made, and the crowd rapt with it all. The band played, and my kids chanted, “Let’s Go Orange” along with 23,000 others. The drama was so intense that my almost-teenaged daughter at one point anxiously exclaimed, “I didn’t sign on for this,” which is pre-teen lingo for “This is intense and awesome and I’m so into it.”
We all felt the same.
To top it off, Syracuse won -- in exciting fashion, no less. 

The A-team’s John “Hannibal” Smith used to say, I love it when a plan comes together. Why I’m quoting a member of the A-team is beyond me. But I thought of that oft-repeated quote from the mid-80s as this plan of mine came together, despite my best efforts to derail it under the guise of frugality.
And I realized something else. As a parent, you learn what real perfection actually looks like. It’s not perfect.
We achieved our version of it that day. And I’m sure the kids will remember it.