Thursday, December 22, 2016

A dog, and the family who loved her

A lump formed in my throat as I stood in the darkened hallway outside my office, a phone to my ear, listening to a comforting veterinarian walk me through the options my wife and I had left. It was a dishearteningly short list.

“I’m sorry you have to deal with this, and so close to the holidays,” she offered kindly.

“Yep,” was all I could muster without a torrent of tears being released.

I’m not one to wish days away, but like many, I just want this year to end.

Days. What a strange unit of measure. All equal in duration, but different in size, content, even in light and darkness. Passing like pages in a book. Some remembered well, others forgotten.

I remember the day 14 years ago when we went to a little house in Northern Virginia to pick up our puppy. Feels like yesterday. It was the first time we met her. A white mutt with black spots, billed as an Aussie Sheppard mix, rescued from West Virginia, where they had more dogs than people willing to raise them, and brought to Washington, D.C., where young couples waited to adopt pets as a toe in the water before having kids.

She was the first addition to our new family. And, as I said to friends at the time, she filled holes in my heart I didn’t know I had.

I remember, in the first days having her in our home, laying on the floor with her on my chest, playing and smiling as she nibbled my hands, nipped at my face, and licked everything in sight.

Man, she was a licker. Some dog whisperer theorized it was due to losing her mother too young. For us, it was just who she was. We trained her eventually, though that too was a bit of a fiasco. Sit. Heel. Stay. We even broke her of the habit of jumping up on visitors. But she never stopped licking people. She could control the urge with us. But the second someone else came in the house with shorts on, she’d lick their legs like it was her religion.

“Sydney, Stop!” Visitors would yell. I’d laugh, wondering when people would learn to wear pants when they came over.

I remember well those puppy training classes my wife and I took her to in her first year. She was young for canine school, and just so darned excited to be around other dogs; she could hardly contain herself. As graduation day neared, we were certain she was going to be held back. Whether there would be a diploma for Sydney was the source of much anxiety. On the day of the final exam, my wife led her around the little obedience course, as the other dogs and owners watched. Our distractible little puppy didn’t earn bonus points for staying focused, as she wiggled and wagged around the room while my wife pleaded, “C’mon girl.” But she did graduate. Diploma and all. Yippie, we said. We were proud. She was a good girl. Of course, the class was as much about training us as it was about training her, the instructor mentioned as we left, deflating our pride just a hair.

But she was trained and ready to become a friend to our first child. And she did, such that our daughter’s first word wasn’t “mama” or “dada,” but “puppy.”

Our pup was patient and curious, kind and gentle; no matter how often she had her tail pulled or was climbed upon.

And, the years and the kids kept piling on. Through it all, she remained our excitable pup.

I remember when, after one of the later kids came along, I decided to start running each morning to get rid of my sympathy weight. Sydney ran with me. She loved it, and it helped keep her nails trimmed. Those were good days.

I remember so many times playing with her in the yard, how she’d run full sprint, and her back legs would hop as she slowed down. And in the snow, and on the beach, and taking her with us on our family walks around the neighborhood. The truth is, I was a crappy owner and didn’t do those things enough, always too busy with the hectic demands of everyday life. My wife was far better, always doting on her, and thinking of her, and including her in our plans. She came to be my wife’s constant companion, the two of them sharing the home office day after day. Those days meld together more than we wish they did now.

There were bad days, too. Like the first time she got sprayed by a skunk. I found myself at the store at 1 a.m. buying a conveyer belt full of tomato juice and douche. “Gonna clean up Gotham,” was the bad joke in my head as I slunk through the checkout line. That was one of several late night washings, which always seemed to happen when the air was cold and the water stung my hands. I can only imagine how she felt. She hated baths. Especially cold ones in the middle of the night. We’d both sooner forget those.
Then there was the time we falsely accused her of pooping on the bed. The cat did it, we later learned. And then in more recent days, when she hobbled instead of galloped, when she stopped going up the stairs to avoid falling down them, when we started carrying her places – to her bed, to go outside, to the vet.

When I think of the days with her, I’ll likely remember today, too, though I wish I didn’t.
I’d rather remember her curled up at my feet as I wrote a dumb blog post, or graded papers, with her head draped on my foot, and her warmth and love constantly within reach. Or how she sprawled out on the floor, like super dog, with her hind legs straight behind and her front legs reaching forward. Or how excited she'd get when anyone said "wanna go for a walk" and grabbed her leash, or when we'd grill steak and she knew I'd slip some trimmings in her bowl.
It’s hard to lose a dog. It’s hard because, except for the rare vacations where we’d board her in the kennel, she was there for it all, waiting at the door as new babies came home, sharing the floor as they started to crawl, running behind them as they learned to ride bikes, eating their snowballs out of the air.
For fourteen years, she was a part of us. My kids don’t know a world without her. 

Sydney was such a good girl. She was a good dog. She was a part of our family. Now, just days before Christmas, she’s gone.
And we’re gonna miss her. Every day, for always.


 1/26/2002 - 12/22/2016


Thursday, November 10, 2016

My Obligatory Post-Election Letter To My Kids

Apparently, you’re not allowed to have a dad blog if you don’t write a letter to your kids about the election of Donald Trump.

So here goes.

My Dearest children;

(I actually never call them “dearest,” like there are less dear offspring somewhere else).

Starting over.

Dear kids;

Dear is such a weird word and so formal sounding. This is hard.

Third time’s the charm.

Hey Kids;

“Ah hem.”


Let’s just start with how sorry I am.

I’m sorry that our country just did what it did, electing a man to the presidency of the United States of America who bullies, belittles and threatens people. All the rules banning those sorts of things still apply in our house, and everywhere else. So knock it off, in advance.

I’m sorry that our country just put in the highest office a man who has treated women poorly his entire life, focusing only on their physical attributes, bragging about kissing and grabbing them without permission, and habitually trading his wives in for younger versions every few years. Other Americans accepting this behavior does not mean you ever should. Ever, from anybody. As importantly, all those things I told you about how smart, important and capable you are still hold true. And, despite this one election, you can all still aspire to be president. Though I don’t know if our family could handle that level of scrutiny, if you know what I mean. You can also be scientists, or teachers, or economists, or parents of great kids, or lawyers. You should know, however, there are more people in law school right now than there are lawyers. That's something people warn you before you plunk down a hundred K to become one. No one knows if it's true. Either way, please, don’t hesitate to dream big and do big things. I know you all can and will.

I’m sorry, too, that there’s a good chance all the good things we’ve done as a country in recent years -- like expanding access to healthcare, granting basic rights to the LGBTQ community, standing up for marginalized people, and protecting the environment – are about to be undone. Sorry that you’ll have to do these things all over again.

On the environment: I’m very sorry about that. All that stuff you’ve heard people say at school about protecting the planet, it’s still the goal in this house. Yes, we still have to recycle and turn the lights off when we leave the room. And we shouldn’t run the water when brushing our teeth. And yes, we still have to brush our teeth. That was never even on the table. Despite what you see and hear over the next few years, it is still up to all of us to protect the planet. Period.

Oh, and I’m sorry about the Electoral College, though that’s not even my generation’s fault. It was Alexander Hamilton’s generation. In what can now be considered a great bit of irony, he saw the Electoral College as a protection against the people electing someone who was unfit and unqualified for the job. Funny, right? I’ve been telling you, A. Ham wasn’t nearly as great as Hamilton the Musical (or “Play dot Ham”) makes him seem. Maybe now you’ll believe me. As one of you said to me and mom the morning after, “Why do we even have the Electoral College? Why can’t we just leave it up to the people?” Amen to that.

Also sorry for the random dad joke about Hamilton I squeezed into the last paragraph. I have an affliction.

Finally, I’m sorry that these results made you all so sad. I can tell you that the saddest part for me was seeing how sad it made you. Mom and I believed in the other candidate and thought that our country would make us proud by electing her. We were wrong about that. But we were not wrong to believe. And while I know this hurts, you always have to be willing to believe.

And now, dearest children, I am going to tell you why I am hopeful.

Yes, hopeful.

I am hopeful because of you. All of you are funny, and talented, and so darn insightful. All of you know how important it is to be nice to each other – even if you’re not always nice to each other, at least you know you’re supposed to be. All of you are capable of making this world a better, more inclusive, more loving place.

I’m also hopeful because I know your friends, and they are nice too, and smart, and compassionate. I saw how they reacted when that awful tragedy happened in Orlando. And, on that darkest of days, you’re friends' actions made my heart sing, and believe, and hope again.

A gesture by my daughter and her friends
that gave me faith and hope after Orlando
You and all your friends know there will be a woman president in your lifetimes, and they also know – I sense -- that this particular man should never have been. And I take solace knowing that he would not have been if this election had been left up to people under the age of 30, or even just middle schoolers. If kids could have voted, the outcome would have been different, because they know a bully when they see one, and they know what to do with bullies. So there is hope in the future and the people who will shape it.

I am also hopeful and proud, and you should be too, that we live in a town that voted for her and not him; in a county that voted for her and not him; and in a state that voted for her and not him. We didn’t vote for him. Nor did the people around us.

But it will be up to us to fix it. So you're not getting off the hook that easily.

Finally, I am hopeful because we have to be. Your mom and I have dealt with a lot of stuff in our lives, as have your grandparents. And no matter what, we all keep moving forward together. We keep hoping that tomorrow will be better than today. Some days it won’t be. But we will still hope. And I know you will to.


Your dearest father

a.k.a. Dad

So there it is: My official letter to my kids, which I am apparently sharing with the world – or at least the 27 people who will visit this blog.

For those who don’t appreciate that fact that I tried to make my kids smile a bit while writing this, I realize it's "too soon" for many. But you should know that I come from a long line of people who try to use humor to deal with life’s great disappointments. Emphasis on try.

I also come from a long line of people who often fail when trying to make people laugh at inopportune times.

And this, if nothing else, is an inopportune time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How We've Ruined Sports and Other Joyful Things

The air was still.

Along a sidewalk and a row of ornamental trees separating a parking lot from an expanse of green fields, parents stood and squatted against trees and paced, waiting.

After three days of tryouts, cut day had arrived.

They say having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. For these parents, their hearts sat a hundred yards away in a circle of tween and teen girls, adorned in shin guards and Under Armour tees, all awaiting news of their fate.

Moments before, these girls had been playing the beautiful game, running, passing and kicking. Then the play stopped, and they were told to get their bags and gather at the far goal.

A precocious one who was not my daughter, but was bursting with spunk and spirit, found her dad from half-a-field away among the anxious gathering crowd as she jogged to her bag on the sideline and yelled, for everyone to hear, “They’re going to tell us if we made it now!”

For a moment, her innocent admission broke the tension, and some parents smiled.

Then, reality set in again. And over a thirty minute stretch that felt like a year, these girls who’d played soccer since kindergarten were called one-by-one and walked with trepidation toward a bench at midfield where a coach with a spreadsheet waited. There they were either handed a slip of paper detailing the upcoming practice dates, or they had their little girl dreams of soccer greatness extinguished.

Depending on the news, the young ladies either floated and skipped the remaining fifty yards to the awaiting arms of a jubilant parent, or sulked paperless in a long, meandering walk looking for a comforting face, some bursting into tears when they found one, others just wandering into the parking lot stunned.

Let me just say at the onset that cuts suck. Especially for middle schoolers.

As I sat there, leaning against a tree, looking for my daughter’s distant profile among the gaggle of girls, I actually said a prayer that when her name was called, I’d see a slip of paper in her hand. An actual prayer. Like there’s a patron saint of modified soccer teams, or something.

I know there are some who praise the virtue of cuts and of cut-throat-competition. This is the fire that can forge greatness. Michael Jordan was cut once, you know. And, kids are tough.

I get it.

One wise friend put it differently, saying that the sooner young people can be disabused of their athletic prowess the better for the development of other actual skills.

I get that even more.

But I come at it from another angle. I know the potential positive impact of sports on a young person. I also know how many young women leave sports behind in the tween and early teen years. And I know that, at least statistically, not having the influence of sports or other extra-curricular activities can hurt their odds of making it through the minefield that is adolescents.

Maybe I’m an idealistic fool, but I think every middle school girl who wants to play soccer should be able to.

Sitting there against the tree, as I watched too many young girls and their parents bawl, I got a little angry.

The anger wasn’t for the coaches. They have to field a team. And they are told how many they can have on that team.

It certainly wasn’t for the kids. They just want to play.

Nor was it even for the school, necessarily. It’s a good school and a lot of families move here to attend it. Some years that means more kids trying out for the middle school soccer team than can reasonably fit on the field or be kept on the sideline.

No. The anger was for parents. Not the parents waiting for news, but for parents in general.

Parents are ruining sports.

Dreams of success, and scholarships, and unfathomable greatness have driven parents to do ridiculous things.

Ask any high school athletic director or college coach what a young person should do to improve their athletic abilities and they will say, play multiple sports. If they’re truly honest, they might tell you not to bother. That the raw ability needed to succeed at a higher level is more rare than most believe. And that full-ride scholarships are even harder to come by.

The truth is, the odds are stacked against all of our kids when it comes to athletic greatness. One exceptional kid in the school district in a given sport might get a partial scholarship to a little known college. Or they might not.

And the chances of making the Olympics are almost non-existent. No decent parent would wish that life on their kid, anyway.

All we should reasonably expect from sports is a positive experience that instructs about teamwork and hard work and overcoming obstacles.

But that doesn’t stop parents. Despite the facts, and the odds, and the best advice, the well-meaning parents of athletically mediocre kids train them year-round in a given sport, from kindergarten on, for that one-in-million chance at greatness.

They do it in every sport, not just soccer, or baseball, or gymnastics. And not just your typical sports. They do it in dance, and theatre, and swimming. These days, all kids train like they are Olympians. And their parents fork out big bucks on training sessions, travel teams, special programs and camps.

It is making it impossible to have a healthy and sensible approach to any activity. Because, to have a chance, you have to do the same. You have to, or else you simply cannot play.

Then, one day, too many of these over-trained, overinflated kids end up on the same middle school soccer field vying for fewer positions than there are young people hoping for the honor.

And, bam. Dreams are dashed.

It’s the parents fault. Not the parents on that field on cut day. But all parents. Even me.

That day, I saw too many kids cry. It angered me.

That precocious girl who was not my daughter who yelled out to her dad: She got cut. She cried. Her dad held her and walked her to the car, dumfounded.

Then my daughter’s name was called.

The air was still.

They say having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. It is true.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Learning Lessons from a Little Boy; 6 Tips to Help Parents Enjoy Soccer Again; and To the Lost Little Girl in DC: Watching You Find Your Mom Made My Day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are Your Kids Spoiled? "Oui, Oui" - A Weekend in Quebec

As parents, one of the things we don’t want to do is spoil our kids. It’s a general goal.

This summer, we have failed miserably.

I’ve had a few people come up to me recently – just a few – and ask why I haven’t written much lately. Well for one, I’ve been busy working and sleeping. Which is what I do most days: Go to work, get home to eat dinner, then fall asleep when the kids go to bed.
But the other reason I haven’t posted much is we’ve been quite busy on weekends doing blog-worthy things, while spoiling our kids rotten. Not with material items, mind you, but with rich and special summer experiences.

I actually had a kid say to me one recent Saturday, “Do we have to go to the beach again? I just want to stay home.”
“Tough noogies,” was my reply. “You’re going to the beach and you’re going to have fun until you’re whistling Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah out your …”  

I had to suppress my inner Clark Griswald not to use the full quote (That link is NSFW).
Since school let out in late June, we’ve spent a week in Hilton Head, a few days around Granny’s pool, and just about every weekend sprawled along the beach on Lake Ontario, with jaunts to Sackets Harbor and Clayton thrown in. We’ve seen countless sunsets, loads of stars, a few shooting stars, and one notable sunrise. We’ve gone swimming, sailing, kayaking, and hiking. And we’ve eaten pretty well, too.   

I’ve also been reluctant to write about our adventures due to that strange feeling you can get when reading about other people’s fun times. You know. That feeling where you’re happy for them, you really are, but you also kind of wish you could be there, and then you start to regret your own life choices. It’s the opposite of schadenfreude, the German word for taking joy from the pain of others. This is more like finding pain in other people's joy. I call it vacationschaden.
And while it’s prevented me from writing, it hasn’t stopped us from spoiling the kids.

The climax of spoilage came this weekend when we took a short weekend trip to Canada.

I can hear the questions: Going to Canada doesn’t sound like spoiling? Does it, eh?
It wasn’t just Canada, it was French-speaking Canada. And it wasn’t just French-speaking Canada, it was the world-renowned Quebec resort town of Mont Tremblant.

Pedestrian village in Mont Tremblant
won’t bore you with the history of the place, except to say that some wealthy investors spent billions some time ago to turn the top skiing destinations on the east coast into a year-round vacation spot for wealthy Canadians – and for American families hoping to take advantage of the exchange rate but not factoring in the provincial tax.  
I will bore you, however, with the history of how our family found ourselves there, because this is quintessential to the theme of spoiling.

It started, simply enough, when my 8-year-old curious and precocious daughter said in the presence of her grandmother, “I want to go somewhere they speak French.”

And the planning began. (My parents were going with us, so the planning was more complex than usual. If you get that joke, you’re likely family).
First, it was determined that what we all really wanted to do was go to Quebec City. But that’s too far away for a weekend – even a long weekend – and I didn’t want to take the time from work.

Then we thought about Montreal, which I’ve been to a ton thanks to a few years just south of there in Plattsburgh. That’s too much like another big city, and everyone there speaks English anyway.  
A bit stumped, I asked my Canadian dad-blogger friends for suggestions. Yes, I have Canadian dad-blogger friends, including one aptly known as the Canadian Dad. And they suggested Mont Tremblant.  

We set out on Friday, arriving midday in the beautiful village of Mont Tremblant. Actually, if you go, know that there are three villages around the mountain that all have some claim on the name: centre-ville, le village and the pedestrian village. I did research enough to know we wanted to be in the pedestrian village, which was designed to look like the streets of Quebec City.
I could describe all the fun we had, but I thought I’d just show some pictures.  So, despite the likelihood of causing mass vacationschaden, here goes:



In our short weekend away, the kids went rock-wall climbing, hiking, swimming, up a mountain, down a mountain, and rode a luge -- wheels not sleds.  All this while surrounded by French speaking people.

My kids got a real kick out their proximity to a place where they speak another language. Their favorite part was saying “Oui, Oui.” Especially in double-entendre context.

Concert in the square at Mont Tremblant

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

“Oui, oui.”
To top it off, we also happened to be in town for a big, free concert in the middle of the village by a woman who is, like, the Celine Dion of Quebec. (That was the bad joke I said repeatedly, because I’m a dad). But this singer-songwriter is one of the stars of Quebec's version of The Voice, “La Voix” for you French speakers. Her name: Ariane Moffatt. And my kids saw her in concert before she became popular in the United States, for the record.

Because they are spoiled.
And we have failed this summer on that front.

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, 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.