Fathers, Daughters, and the Bond of Baseball

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When I was young, my dad and I would play catch in the street outside my house, just where the road began a slow decline. It was a gentle slope, perfect for coasting down on a bike or even a sled, if it snowed enough and conditions were just right. But if my throw was wild – as it often was – the softball might go pop-popping off the asphalt and down the hill, and we’d have to take turns chasing it onto a neighbor’s lawn, trapping it with our glove, then jogging, slower this time, up to the top to try again.

Baseball has never been my father’s favorite sport, but it was one he felt he could teach his daughters. He took us to see the minor league team on Bat Night and we all came home with miniature Louisville sluggers. We ate popcorn and nachos and did the wave in the bleachers, giggling wildly. When a foul ball came near I would stick out my glove and scrunch my eyes tight, terrified of the impact. I don’t believe I ever caught one.

Although we lived in Upstate New York he was a Minnesota Twins fan—something about the games he was able to pick up on the radio as a boy. When I was only six or seven I kept my school papers in a pocket folder with Kirby Puckett’s grinning face on the front; I’m sure my dad was thoroughly proud. He’d root for the Mets, too, and when my oldest sister eventually went to Boston College, she and my dad could talk Red Sox for hours. He was good with pretty much every team but the Yankees; my dad has never been a guy with expensive taste, and money tends to make him angry. “Well of COURSE they’re good!” he would rant.

So he was disappointed when, in college, I adopted the Yankees as “my team”, cheering them on from my common room futon to the World Series in 2001 and 2003, and nearly losing my mind as the Red Sox miraculously defeated them in the ALCS in 2004. (I still feel slightly enraged when I think about Curt Schilling’s bloody sock.)

Then I met my husband, who had been raised in a Chicago suburb with the heavy burden of Cubs fandom. We met while we were both living in the St. Louis area, at the height of Cardinals’ domination. In St. Louis, Albert Pujols was a god who ate Cubbie bears for breakfast. It was a difficult place to root for the Cubs, but at the time, any place was a difficult place to root for the Cubs.

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That’s my husband with his sister and grandfather at Wrigley field in 1992.

This man who would become my husband took his team seriously. He internalized each error; he often had to step away from the TV in frustration. Watching him watch the Cubs (often from a nervous distance), I questioned my own loyalties. The Yankees did not make me feel this angst. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, I released my claim to them, and began to cheer, instead, for the team that might someday make my husband happy.

Late on the night of November 2, I sank into my couch and looked on as my husband, the father of my three children, paced. The Cubs were so close to doing the unthinkable. They might just win the World Series. They might just fuck it up – in fact, he was pretty convinced that they were on the verge of just that. Upstairs, our daughters slept. It was a school night for our oldest, who is in kindergarten, and staying up to watch the game just wasn’t an option. She is six, growing up in the heart of South Carolina college football country, where nearly everyone is either a Tiger or a Gamecock. When asked what team she roots for, she’ll answer, “My team is the Cubs.”

The morning after the win, when our oldest woke, I told her that the Cubs had won the World Series. Her eyes grew wide, and she ran from the room. This was a moment to share with her dad.

My husband, like my father, is raising three girls. He is an affectionate person; they know, undoubtedly, that their daddy loves them. They climb on him, chase and pin him, rub noses and give high fives. They also snuggle on the couch to watch PTI, give him their brief attention as he explains innings and outs. In sharing the Cubs with them he is sharing a part of himself. He is creating something that will last. And this is just the beginning: we talk about trips to Atlanta, when they’re a little older, to see a Cubs-Braves series. We talk about taking them to Wrigley someday, where we will tell them the story of the time mommy and daddy went to a Cubs game and daddy drank too much and confessed that he had been ring shopping.

We worry that our girls will pass over T-ball to take ballet, that they will relegate baseball to the realm of boy stuff and lose interest. But perhaps, with Christmas coming, there will be a glove under the tree. Maybe my husband will lead the girls out to the cul-de-sac and they will practice, starting slowly: Here is how you cradle the ball in your glove. Here is how you release it. And when it gets away from you, hurry, run to get it back. This is not something you want to lose.

 

 

Kindergarten Starts in Five Days- Here is How I’m Doing

The summer has been difficult.

My husband leaves for work and I stare at the clock as if it will somehow solve for me the problem of filling up the day. I have all three kids at home: I am their source of entertainment, their provider of every need. I try to set up playdates but our friends have scattered to beaches and family reunions. Or they work, like I used to. Like I fantasize about on days so hot that the driveway burns our feet and forces us to retreat into our air-conditioned home, where all the blinds are shut. Where the contents of our playroom are slowly dragged from room to room, until I feel like I am living in a murky hell of board game pieces and Barbie clothes.

Needless to say, I’ve been ready for school to start for some time now.

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My summer. Except ALL OVER MY HOUSE.

Still, my immense relief at reducing my daily load from three children to one- especially while grocery shopping- has not eclipsed the monumental fact that my oldest is starting kindergarten. Kindergarten! Like most milestones in my children’s lives, this newest transition is causing some majorly mixed emotions in this mama. Allow me to outline them for you:

Anxiety. I worry about the little things. My oldest is not a morning person. I am also not a morning person. Currently, our process of getting ready in the morning sounds like this:

Me: It’s time to get dressed now.

Me (five minutes later): It’s time to get dressed now. Didn’t you hear me tell you five minutes ago that it’s time to get dressed now?

Me (another five minutes later): Are you seriously still not dressed? 

Then I have to grab the keys and the other children and feign like I’m going to leave her sitting there in only her undies, because girls who would rather do a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle for the 188th time instead of obeying their mothers deserve to be left home alone in an act of gross neglect. There are tantrums; there are tears. Mornings in our house are not the best. God only knows what next Tuesday morning will bring, but it is very possible that my child will be the only kid tardy on the first day of school.

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Wasn’t this, like, yesterday? Are we really about to do kindergarten?

Anxiety. We’ve checked with all of her preschool friends, and none of them are in the same kindergarten class as my child. Now, I’m one of those moms who doesn’t read too deeply into my child’s psychological state. Despite the fact that she’s disappointed not to be with her friends, the kid will get over it. She’ll be just fine. Even so, I know that I’ll think of her that first day and wonder if she’s feeling lonely or left out, and I’ll feel a little squeeze of motherly anguish.

Anxiety. This is my first experience as a public school parent. I know so many people who appear to be experts at navigating drop-off and pick-up, school lunches, PTA, homework, and all the other stuff I don’t even know about yet. Someday I will be one of those people, but right now I feel like somebody walking into their first Zumba class: stupid and lost.

Anxiety. Please let her not be “that kid”. Please let her keep her fingers out of her nose, and use her manners, and stop talking when the teacher says to hush. Please, between the hours of 7:30 and 2:30, let her not use the words “vagina” or “nipples”, which just happen to be two of her favorite terms.  Please let her go out into the world and show everyone what an amazing parent I am.

So yes, perhaps I am a little anxious- not that I would ever convey that to my five-year-old, who certainly has her own anxieties. For her sake, I will hold myself together long enough to send her off into her new classroom with a reassuring hug and a wave. Then I’ll sob a little in the car. Then I’ll drop my middle girl off at preschool and head to the grocery store with the baby, thinking about how lucky I am to have 180 days of this before next summer.

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Don’t let them fool you. They are completely unhelpful.

 

Things I’m Learning (Grudgingly) from My Husband the Phish Fan

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You’d never guess this man is a closet hippie. But wait: check out his daughter’s shirt!

Here are a few facts about my husband: He is a dentist, a business owner. He sings in the church choir. He is just this week finishing up his year-long tenure as President of his Rotary Club. When he’s stressed, he cleans our house with such intensity that I just stay out of his way and let him do his thing. He has, at least once, described himself as “metrosexual”.

He’s a fashionable, somewhat anal-retentive, civically minded, well-respected guy. He doesn’t seem like the most likely candidate to be spotted in a parking lot outside a Phish show, waiting in line to make a purchase from a vendor called “You Enjoy My Socks”. And yet, he has done this very thing. He has dressed our three girls in Phish clothing, sung them Phish lullabies, and let them stay up late to watch the live-stream of Phish’s New Year’s Show.

My husband has been to a total of 21 Phish shows, which in the Phish community is nothing to write home about. But if he wants to stay happily married, he knows that his Phish exploits must be limited to no more than four, maybe five shows a year. I’m sorry, Phish world, if that seems like a major bummer. It’s just that I have three small children- I like having my husband around.

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Mmm hmm. Yeah. Somebody bought him PHISH CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS.

Come with me! he always says, when the tour schedule is released. (I have somehow been subscribed to Phish emails, which is actually great because I have a heads-up when my husband is about to approach me with his grand plan for the season.) It would be more fun with you there! It’s a sweet sentiment, and I love that he really believes that. The fact, though, is that I am not a whole lot of fun at a Phish show.

Case in point: the last show we went to was in Atlanta in August. It was 800 degrees in the parking lot and, with a four-month-old at home, I had brought my hand-held breast pump with me. Sitting in a camping chair under the one shred of shade available, covered in my nursing shawl, manually expressing breast milk while a stranger offered me Molly? Not my finest moment. (Although certainly not the strangest thing happening in that particular parking lot at the time.)

I’ve been to a total of three Phish shows, and each time my husband is desperately hoping that THIS time, I will get it. A 24-minute jam will stir something sleeping deep within me. I will dance with abandon. I will think that a middle-aged man wearing a dress and playing a song on a vacuum cleaner is the BEST THING EVER.

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Is something incredibly exciting about to happen? Probably not.

But I don’t. I just don’t. And on the eve of another Phish-scapade, one I have agreed to be a part of, I’m trying to figure out how not to be a buzzkill. I’m trying to take my husband’s love of this band and their music and channel it into something that feels relevant to me. He really is enthusiastic and supportive about my writing – the least I can do is try to appreciate this thing that makes my professional, responsible husband grin and dance himself into a sweaty frenzy and forget about all his troubles.

So here’s my takeaway, my Life Lesson from Phish, in brief:

I will dare to embrace the unpredictable, disorderly nature of Phish’s music. It’s hard for me; because of the kids, my life is already full of disorder and unpredictability, and so I like my music tidy. But I know, just as any mother does, that there’s beauty in the chaos. I will do my best to remember this, to be open to the unexpected.

I will let my husband’s devotion to Phish inspire me. His borderline obsessive behavior (he just logged on to his Phish.net account to show me his show stats) is proof that being a parent and having a passion outside of that role are not mutually exclusive. Phish may not be for me, but I do have my own interests- book clubs, blogging, yoga, photography- and it’s okay to be unapologetic about the time I spend nurturing myself and my creativity.

I will make an effort to find meaning in a lyric that my husband has called his “Call to Action”, this repeated line from the song “Chalkdust Torture”:

Can’t I live while I’m young?
Can’t I live while I’m young?
Can’t I live while I’m young?
Can’t I live while I’m young?

I have only been to three Phish shows- soon to be five- but from my limited experience I can still hear the crowd singing along in hearty agreement. All of them, from the itinerant who hawks geodes on Shakedown Street to the tie-dyed frat boy to the suburban dad, are there for the same reason: to be part of a common experience that makes them feel alive.

Or so I’ve heard. I’ll just be there to support a spouse who can’t seem to live without Phish. There are worse things. With this in mind, I’ll try to enjoy it. Who knows, I might even dance.

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The Phish robot shirt moves on to child #2, who is fully, bravely, living while she’s young. 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Suddenly Writing Haiku

So here, friends, is what is currently going down in my life:

It is summer. It is hot, miserably hot. I have three people between the ages of 1 and 5 asking me for things, begging me to feed and entertain them. Oh how I want to write, but I can’t. It seems that’s just what this summer is: The Summer of Not Blogging.

My children have my creativity on a leash, and it is wrapped around their little fists.

But I have a solution- a temporary one, at least. You see, I have these haikus. The goal, for me, was to take a particular parenting experience and metaphorically put it into that Willy Wonka machine that made a Thanksgiving dinner into a tiny piece of gum. To distill what it means to be a parent into seventeen syllables.

I wrote them quickly, dreaming big dreams of the prestigious parenting websites that would agree to publish them. How creative! they would gush. How cute! Yes, a million times yes! I thought they were pretty good; I was proud of them. Certainly someone else would appreciate them.

After silence, more silence, rejection, rejection, rejection, I came to a decision. I am declaring this summer The Summer of Haikus that May Not Be Good Enough for the Washington Post but Dammit, I Like Them and I’m Just Going to Put Them Out There and See What Happens.

So there: I bring you my haiku of the week, volume 1. If any of these haikus speaks to you, please share them. Share with anyone and everyone who understands what it is to be creatively tethered, or to have to find ways to get creative within the confines of motherhood. Share them with those who have so much they would like to say, but cannot find the time to say it. These haiku are for you.

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A Love Letter to a 15K- And How It’s Making Me a Better Parent

I grew up just down the street from Utica, NY, where the Boilermaker 15K Road Race is held each year on the second Sunday in July. But because the date of the race coincided with our family’s annual trip to the Adirondacks, I never got to see what all the fuss was about. On Monday morning my parents would drive from our rental cabin to the small corner store to pick up donuts and a copy of the Utica Observer-Dispatch paper, which ran a Boilermaker insert. We would scan the results pages with cinnamon-sugary fingers and use a highlighter to indicate the names of the people we knew. Growing up, this was all the Boilermaker meant to me.

When my oldest sister began running the race as an adult, I was happy to pick up one of Utica’s finest bagel sandwiches and sit on a curb with the rest of the family to wave signs and cheer her on, but I had no real interest in distance running. I had been a member of the track team through middle and high school, but despite my coach’s best efforts, I was a high jumper and nothing more. I associated running with pain; there was never enough air in my lungs, and my flat feet made me susceptible to shin splints.

I guess it was love that led me back to my running shoes. A year after we got together, my future husband-to-be ran the Go! St. Louis Marathon, and the year after that, he agreed to run a half-marathon with me. We crossed the finish line at exactly the same time, my sneakers full of blood from unanticipated blisters. He spent the next several days complaining about pain in his knees and hips from “not running at his natural pace.” (Which really means, I love you, but I’m never running with your slow ass again.)

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He ran WAY faster than my slow ass.

After conquering a half-marathon – or maybe it conquered me, but either way – I felt more equipped to tackle the Boilermaker when my sister suggested that we run together in 2010. On the day of the race, I had a nine-month-old and she had a ten-week-old. The fact that we were running at all seemed a little insane, but the draw of the post-race party, where Saranac beer flowed freely for all runners, spurred me forward.

What I didn’t anticipate, as I shuffled toward the starting line for that first Boilermaker (I’ve run one more since), was how enjoyable running 9.3 miles could actually be. The streets were lined with spectators offering encouragement, popsicles, and the occasional spray of a garden hose with which to cool off. Bands performed along the route; DJs blared popular hits and oldies music. This blighted city, which a century ago had been a vibrant seat of manufacturing and transportation, came alive. The whole city, it felt, was smiling.

I knew, just a few steps into that race, that I would do it again. Never mind my general dislike of running. This was something special. 

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Something for everyone at the post-race party!

So, again I’m in training. With three children now, and let’s be honest: my body isn’t what it once was. This body that has birthed three babies, that totes them around and stoops down to clean up their messes and to look them firmly in the eye- this body is not psyched about running. It hurts. It hurts my joints, it hurts every bone in my feet. I have to wear as little clothing as I can get away with or the heat generated by my own exertion threatens to consume me.

Most of the time it feels like crap, but I do it anyway. And I never thought I would say this, but in the process, I’ve found something that I actually love about running: I’ve found the power of my own stubborn will. I’ve discovered that I can talk myself through the hardest parts. I’ve come to love the struggle, because it shows me I am strong.

At some point in this round of training, maybe panting on a treadmill in a crowded gym, or venturing out in the 5:30 a.m. dark while my children sleep, I unlocked a secret. Running and parenting are no different. Think about it: Most of the time it feels like crap, but I do it anyway. I can talk myself through the hardest parts. It’s a struggle, but it shows me I am strong. Stronger than I ever knew. And it makes me a part of something too special to adequately express.

If I can do one, I can do the other. Bring on the pain, and see you at the after-party.

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All people I like. All runners. Coincidence?

 

 

Steps for a Successful Meal Out With Your Small Children

Step 1: Consider where you might like to go. Pick someplace child-friendly, with kids’ menu options, readily available high chairs, changing tables in the restrooms, dishes that can be thrown frisbee-style without shattering, soundproof booths, and strong adult beverages. How far is the establishment from your home? Will anyone there recognize you? At the same time, you want the area to be familiar enough for a child to find her way home on foot, should she wander off. There are many factors to take into account when choosing a restaurant that will please all members of the family.

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Here’s a great example of a place to go with kids. It’s under a bridge, and you can tell them to go look for trolls. Hours of entertainment.

Step 2: Before entering the restaurant, set behavioral expectations for your children and communicate these clearly to them. For example: Sit up straight. Be polite to the wait staff. Every once in a while, pick up a utensil and make some kind of attempt to use it. Speak in indoor voices. Don’t stare at other people while they eat. If you embarrass us, there will be no dessert. And we will never take you out in public EVER AGAIN. Be as specific as possible; children do best when given very explicit parameters within which to function.

Step 3: Ask to be seated somewhere unobtrusive, where the children won’t bother other customers. But maybe close to the restrooms? Because the two-year-old is working on going tee-tee on the potty. But not so close to the restrooms that that’s all she wants to do, because we’re not paying for a nice meal just to spend the entire time in the restroom, are we? A corner, a dark corner, somewhere in the vicinity of the restrooms, would be just fine. But not so isolated that we can’t signal our waitress for help. And perhaps with a direct line of sight to the bartender?

Thanks, that would be lovely.

Step 4:  Order a margarita.

Step 5: Settle the children in their seats. Oh look!, tell them, in your most enthusiastic voice, how NICE it is that the restaurant provided them with children’s menus that they can color, and two crayons each. Exude positivity; children take cues from the adults around them.

Step 6: Take the yellow crayon away from the baby, who has started to eat it. Hand it to the two-year-old, who is melting from her chair to the floor, hysterical because she HATES RED!!!!

Step 7: Open the menu. It is time to decide if you’d like to order an appetizer, to keep the children from getting too hungry, or to get your main course in as soon as possible to-

Step 8: Take the two-year-old to the bathroom. Since she has refused your help, watch as she struggles to pull down her pants and underwear, touches every surface of the toilet seat, and then decides that she doesn’t have to go. Patiently suggest that she wash her hands before returning to the table, then patiently respond to her queries as she pokes around the bathroom like she’s Ariel in The Little Mermaid, seeing human inventions for the first time. “That the trash can? That the light? That the soap? Where the paper towels?”

Step 9: Return to the table and apply hand sanitizer to the two-year-old’s hands. Ask your husband if the waitress has been by. She was, but he didn’t know what to order the kids. He got you another margarita, though. Alright, then. Food. You’re here for food. Open the menu.

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Seriously though, send them out to eat with the grandparents. For some reason, grandparents like that sort of thing.

Step 10: The two-year-old says she has to poop. And the five-year-old needs to go, too. Sniff the baby just in case; on the bright side, here is a chance to cut out one future trip to the restroom! Give your husband instructions to order the children hot dogs and to choose something for you, something with cheese and salt, maybe a leaf or two of lettuce. As you trudge toward the restroom, exude positivity. They are children, after all. Sometimes children need to potty.

Step 11: As you change the baby’s diaper, watch as the two-year-old struggles to pull down her pants and underwear, touches every surface of the toilet seat, and then decides that she doesn’t have to go. Even though you can see her literally squeezing her butt cheeks together in an effort to keep the poop from getting out. Attempt to explain, calmly, to the five-year-old why she shouldn’t use the automatic hand dryer for entertainment. Because other people are eating their dinners and don’t want to hear gleeful child shrieks and explosive air pressure coming from the bathroom. And also it hurts your ears. And is making the baby cry.

Step 12: Return to the table. Settle the children in their seats. Drink a healthy sip of margarita. Feed the baby the backup Cheerios that you had the foresight to pack. Learn from your husband that he has ordered you a fish sandwich. Ask him when, in the eight years you have been married, has he ever seen you eat a fish sandwich? Apologize for your tone; it will be fine. It will be great. Is there cheese on it? Okay then. Exude positivity.

Step 13: The two-year-old has pooped in her pants. Send your husband to the bathroom with her. Take a healthy sip of margarita. Motion to the waitress for to-go boxes. On the bright side, you’ll get to eat your fish sandwich on the couch while watching last season’s episodes of Game of Thrones. On the bright side, you’re never taking your children into public, ever again.

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Wooooo! No kids! But I still haven’t decided if I can take HIM out in public again…

 

Why Every Birthday Wrecks Me

1Day99_0003Two days ago, my youngest child turned one. I never thought I’d be the mom who cried on my daughter’s birthday, but there were a lot of things I never would have imagined doing, before. That’s what becoming a mother does to a woman: it grabs hold of the person she was, or thought she was, it tears that person apart – yes, literally – and it rewrites her.  What had seemed impossible in her old life suddenly seems possible – for better or worse- to this new, revised version of herself.

But here’s the truth: this wasn’t the first time that I’ve dissolved into emotional anarchy on my child’s birthday. It happens every time, and why? Because I want to have three children ages five and under FOREVER? Uh, no. Not particularly. Because my understanding, when I gave birth to these girls, was that they would stay tiny and manageable, like miniature dachshunds? Cute, but no. Because the thought of finding a place in my house for all of their birthday gifts threatens to bring on a bout of long-dormant vertigo? Well, yes, but that’s not exactly it.

What is a birthday, to a mother? It is the finality of a year. It is the passage of 365 individual days, one indistinguishable from the next, the way the cars of a train or the dashed lines on the highway blur together as they speed past. I admit that in some ways, a birthday feels a little like grief. Where did a year go? What was I doing? What if I can’t recall all the strides they made, every little way that they grew and changed? Where do those memories go when they aren’t hoarded like treasures?

A birthday, to a mother, is a mad attempt to remember it all. It is the realization that we cannot remember it all, that in the past year the compartments of our brains have been gummed up with sleeplessness and shopping lists and frustration and perhaps one too many glasses of wine. Not everything that should have stuck, did. We see that as our failing. A birthday is a reminder that not every memory is going to stick, that most of the days we have with these beautiful human beings will simply be lived, not preserved. But a mother has a hard time letting go.

These feelings of wistfulness and regret do not diminish the sense of celebration, the joy, the desire to make our overwhelming love known to our child on this day, of all days. No, this is something else we learn quickly: that motherhood is all of it, at the same time, a big soup of loss and pain and love and pride. Our children grew inside of us and we brought them into this world, where they will continue to grow, apart from us. One year at a time.

And while we might wish- as the candles flicker on the cake and the cameras flash and everyone smiles wide- that we could make time stand still, ours is not the wish that matters, today. So we put it away. We smile wide, we live in the happiness of this moment, and we try to hold on to all we can of it, because we are mothers, and we cannot help ourselves.