Finish Line.

It’s May.  The air is becoming thick with humidity, warmth, and the scent of late spring flowers.  The days are getting longer and kids are back out at the neighborhood basketball courts.  There is an electric buzz of anticipation around us as long hot days creep closer. Me? I am desperately clinging to any sign of summer I find.  I’ve almost gone as far as to ban jeans from everyone’s wardrobes and I’ve already switched from red to white wine in the evenings. It’s all an act though, because it’s not summer yet.  Look a little closer, yep see those dark circles under our eyes?  See the defeated glances we send as we glance out the window daydreaming about the sunshine?  Yep, here we are yet again limping through the end of the school year . Crying a little on the inside from yet another year of soul crushing education (sorry I might be a little dramatic).  I saw an article recently about a marathon runner who collapsed in view of the finish line. The runner then proceeded to army crawl the remaining yards just to be able to say they completed the 26.2 miles.  That’s us right now, except the finish line is that magical last bell of the school year.

I’m a decade into this school thing from the parenting angle.  I remember the excitement that surrounded that first day of school for Oldest Kid.  I have these pictures of her with a beaming smile on her face with little pigtails in her hair, dressed in pink, and holding a glittery lunch box with a puppy on it.  It was such a big kid thing, going to school, she wasn’t a baby anymore and she was freaking excited. For me it meant a few hours with one less kid hanging off my appendages, a freedom that at that point seemed like a major luxury.  Both of us had this fantastical view of school, it was going to be the best thing ever! Obviously I was never one of those moms that cried at drop off on the first day. I was always kind of like, “peace out, don’t do something that’s going to get you expelled.”

Back then I had no understanding of the effect eleven years of elementary school was going to have on me.   Just the act of getting these kids to school each morning has been torture enough. Look, I am not a morning person by nature, plus I’ve been sleep deprived since Oldest Kid was born.  Waking up at six twenty in the morning for all these years is slowly killing me, I am sure of it. Why our school district feels the need to punish students and parents with starting school at an ungodly hour I will never fully understand.  My brother once told me that the number one way to stay healthy and keep your body running at peak performance is to make sure you get plenty of quality sleeping hours. He didn’t have kids yet when he said this. I kind of wanted to punch him.  I’ve been told It’s a bad idea to start fist fights with professional athletes though.

So since everyone is horribly sleep deprived our school system has also decided that the end of the year is definitely the best time to dole out standardized tests.  Keep in mind the school has also spent the entire year putting the fear of God into these kids over these stupid tests. It starts in third grade, the kids come home in like January with wide eyes saying, “If I don’t pass milestones I’m not going to be able to go to fourth grade!”  Yah, it’s a ton of BS. Middle Kid with all her anxiety and dyslexia was a mess the first time these tests rolled around. There was no way in hell she could pass them, especially because spelling is graded on the written content. Her teacher explained how this all actually works to me, if your kid fails you have to meet with a team of teachers and administrators to go over recommendations for the upcoming year. If the option to hold the child back presents itself both the school and the parents have to sign off on the decision.  Despite what these kids are being told they don’t just get held back because they bombed a stupid standardized test.

Technically we do have the option to opt out of the test, but that is not exactly advertised.  I like to say that I don’t opt my kids out because they need the experience of taking these tests before it really matters, like for the SAT’s.  But in reality I just don’t want to be linked with the one crazy “Opt Out” mom. You know, the one that probably spent all of college protesting global warming and mistreatment of refugees somewhere in Africa.  She goes all out on her very own “Opt Out” movement, tagging every other parent at the school on Facebook when she posts crazy anti testing articles and meeting with school administration. She’s convinced she’s going to single handedly build an army that takes down the evil standardized testing system.  I’m pretty sure she thinks there is some greedy corporate mogul behind the whole thing. He’s tucked away in an office somewhere rubbing his hands together with an evil laugh watching as the profits for his scantron production company go through the roof. You end up blocking her on Facebook after the five thousandth “Opt Out” thing she’s tagged you in and you just tell your kids to suck it up and take the damn test.

Once the testing is over the kids don’t give a shit about what they are being taught anymore.  As far as they’re concerned as long as they passed the milestones they passed the grade. Really the teachers aren’t giving so much of a shit at this point either.  Neither am I. I’m not totally sure why we can’t just cut our losses and call it for the year. Instead I ask my kids if they have homework when they walk in the door, but don’t actually check their bags when they say no.  At this point I just tell them to not fail anything. My A’s and B’s expectations from earlier in the year fly out the window. Just pass your classes, I don’t want to deal with summer school.

On top of school all our end of the year performances for extra curriculars happen in May.  So far we’ve gone through the school play, a chorus concert, a piano concert, and a state meet for gymnastics.  None of their sports really have much of an off season, and swim actually picks up in June. Middle Kid’s training is revving up for nationals which occur in June and Older Kid starts rehearsals next week for recital.  Youngest kids swim team practices start next Monday, I think. Add on to that all of middle kid’s fifth grade graduation events in a few weeks and we have a situation where I am checking schedules day by day just hoping I don’t screw any of it up.

It’s worth it though, the party that’s waiting for us at the end of our sprint is epic.  We live in one of those neighborhoods where everyone ends up drinking at the pool all summer while our kids run rampant from house, to pool, to park, to another house.  The first couple weeks after school lets out is like a pool party free for all. We should probably supervise the kids a little more than we actually do, but whatever, we know where they are.  If someone gets pissed off they know where to find us. At this point they’ve all got iphones with find my friends, and as long as they stick together and don’t go take candy from the back of some guy’s van we’ll be okay.  Besides Middle Kid is the one who’s got the biggest propensity for trouble, and I just send Oldest Kid with her as a spy. We’re officially on summer countdown guys, fifteen days. That’s me, over there, army crawling to the finish line.

Plague.

Alright, I admit, fighting an airport plague is worth it when this is your destination.

Remember all that talk about airports and germs from my last post Airplane.?  Is it any big surprise that at some point during last week’s travels those nasty little creepers infiltrated my system?  It shouldn’t be. This happens literally EVERY TIME I FLY. We have theories on why I am the germ magnet I am. We believe this mostly circles around the fact that I stress myself the hell out trying to get everyone pulled together enough for traveling.  By the time I even enter an airport my immune defenses are nearly non existent due to my frazzled mental state. My other theory is that no matter how exhausted I am when I make it to my location I go straight in to vacation party mode. Last week that meant not even considering any sort of time change and partying all night with one of my cousins.  She and I both left our kids at home so I convinced her to drink with me at a brewery until last call and flirt with random other pregaming wedding guests. I may be a bad influence on her. She loves me anyway.

Was I shocked when I woke up the morning of the wedding not just hungover but also with the beginnings of some sort of illness?  No, I was in denial. I gave that wedding my damn all and did everything I could to get the most out of my time there. Not to mention I really did want to be there for the cousin getting married, so I ended up taking on responsibilities to help her out.  For instance since the wedding was outside in a public area I helped control traffic during family photos, preventing the many stoned people of this hippie town from photobombing. To that one lady who had to be a nasty witch about being asked to wait for like ten seconds: I am so sorry for whatever happened in your life that made you this way, but good lord you are an unpleasant person!  Seriously, there is always one.

Waking up the next morning congested with crackling in my left ear I knew that flying was going to be even more awesome than usual.  Probably just about as fun as it was last year going from LA to Seattle with a double ear infection. Let me tell you guys, freaking agony.  I mean the CIA could totally use this as a torture method. Non stop layovers from city to city, they’d have like a ninety nine percent success rate by the third flight.  Remember, there’s always one asshole guys. I pounded down the Sudafed and ibuprofen (and the Lorazepam, don’t forget the Lorazepam) and prepared myself for the worst.

Take off wasn’t too bad at least, I sat next to a family that was coming out to Atlanta to house hunt.  Dad was some sort of successful doctor so I figured they’d be looking around Buckhead or the northern suburbs.  I may have crushed Mom’s dreams when I told her they really didn’t want to live near midtown especially if planning to send kids to public school.  You know what, she crushed my self identity by telling me I don’t sound like I am from LA I sound like I’m from Atlanta. I think we’re even. She wanted her husband to have a short commute, yah good luck lady, Atlanta traffic, remember guys?

Anyway it was the landing that killed me.  My ear turned into a fiery sun demon with a vendetta against me.  I was pretty positive my eardrum was in the process of rupturing. The doctor moving to Atlanta was going to have to perform emergency surgery as we landed.  In no way did it help that Hartsfield Jackson was the target of one of those Atlanta rolling storms that lasts for thirty minutes but causes everything to come to a complete halt.  There was talk of diverting, then our freaking thrill seeking sadistic pilots were like, “Hell yah!!! Who’s ready for a wild ride? This landing is our bitch!!!” They came on the intercom in that calm put you to sleep pilot voice and said, “Uh, it looks like it’s going to be bumpy going into Atlanta folks.  We’ll be landing in about fifteen minutes.” Due to my ear fire and the death defying stunts of our pilots I have chosen to block the trauma of the following fifteen minutes out of my mind. After running out of the jet way (Yep, I figured out the name of the damn tunnel thing) screaming with tears streaming down my face I worked on finding my car.  Three hours later I was finally on my way home.

At this point I was clearly sick.  Fever chills took over my body and I could no longer breath through my nose.  The remainder of my week has been spent in a fog of illness. By Tuesday the ear fire had migrated to my throat and I was living off of Sudafed and ibuprofen.  My brain was no longer processing rational thought and my sleep schedule was a complete mess from the time change. I briefly considered going to the doctor but was pretty sure all they were going to tell me to do is rest.  You guys I have not “rested” in twelve and a half years. See, I’m one of those “involved” parents. Resting to me is hitting a comatose state at nine thirty at night and weeping silently into my third glass of wine.

Luckily for me this was a less life threatening situation than I originally predicted.  As of today I am actually breathing somewhat normally and I no longer seem to have a fever.  However it was no surprise when middle kid came in from the bus yesterday looking like crap. I can only assume that my entire family will fall victim to airport plague over the upcoming weekend.  Sigh, I should probably just go buy stock in Kleenex and Sudafed now.

Airplane.

I’ve always loved airports.  Maybe that’s weird, I don’t know, but I love them.  Today I’m on my way back to Cali for my cousin’s wedding.  I’m a little giddy at the prospect of having an excuse to make my way through the full airport experience that comes along with cross country travel.  It’s the first trip I’ve taken on my own in five years and I plan on soaking up every minute of the freaking freedom. Honestly, I thought we were going to have a slew of weddings to go to over the past thirteen years since my husband and I got hitched, but  this is only the third. Most of my cousins either eloped or are not married yet, which seems weird to me. Not the eloping, the not being married. Not in like a what the heck is wrong with them weird, like a what the hell would I do with myself if I didn’t have all these people to take care off all the time weird.  I feel like I would accomplish so much if I had that kind of freedom. Man can you imagine? Deciding what I wanted to do with my evenings and weekends. Having a schedule that allowed me to take advantage of those airline deals where you can go to Hawaii for like sixty five dollars? Plus I would actually have the sixty five dollars to spend on myself!   Seriously though I would probably just waste time and money on getting my nails done and drinking a ridiculous amount of Starbucks.

Whatever I’m getting all ADD, point is this cousin is finally getting married. Which means I get to hit up Hartsfield Jackson, which for me is like an added bonus to the whole thing.  For those of you who don’t know Hartsfield Jackson is the massive international airport in Atlanta. Delta basically owns half the place. Which is funny since today is the first time I have EVER flown Delta either into or out of Atlanta.  No surprise the entire south terminal is Delta flights only. As I made my way through mid town in rush hour traffic I came to the realization that I have no idea where the parking is for the South Terminal. Nor do I know how to get into the actual terminal to the security checkpoint after I park.  The prospect of trying to figure this out induces a mild panic attack, you have to understand Atlanteans don’t do the driving so good. You’ve either got someone next to or in front of you going a nice steady five mph under the speed limit, or you’ve got the next team of stunt drivers for The Fast and the Furious cutting in and out of lanes.  Combine that with the giant pickups with camo themed bumper stickers blocking your view, the worst road engineering possible, and the hide and seek sign placement game we like to play and you’ve got driving in Atlanta in a nutshell. So here I am knowing I’ve got to bring my A game to have any chance of not missing my parking exit and having to completely recircle the airport.  The sun is totally working with me of course, if by working with me you mean blinding me despite my defensive tactics of using sunglasses and my car’s sun visor.

Victorious I eventually find a spot in the economy lot and look like a crazy parking lot paparazzi lady as I take pictures of all the parking signs anywhere near my car.  To be fair the first time I flew back into Hartsfield Jackson I couldn’t find my car and spent about an hour at ten o’clock at night walking through empty economy lots trying to find it.  Hopefully we won’t have to repeat that. I know there are no guarantees though. I mean shit like that is just kind of my MO. Pray for my safe return.

I realize that the South Terminal parking is right next to a runway.  I can smell the jet fuel as I try to hustle to the terminal. Hustling because, yah okay, I might have left the house like half an hour later than I should have, and you know, Atlanta traffic.  Planes are taxiing by and I watch them, kind of fascinated by the huge beasts, until one kicks up their engine. I feel the adrenaline shoot through me at the sound of take off, my brain actually processing that I am going to be in one of these monstrosities miles above ground in about an hour.  I said I like airports guys, I HATE flying. Like with a burning passion. I despise flying in an I have to mix psychiatric drugs with alcohol to even step foot on a plane way.  So when this stupid plane which is about to take off kicks it’s shit into gear I start to lose it.  I think I even started to walk faster to escape the horror happening on the runway, which is such a contrary reaction since I am walk towards boarding a plane.  Whatever brain, you just keep chillin up there all fercockt and shit(Yiddish lesson for the day guys). I’ve got lorazepam in my bag, I take note reminding myself to pop a pill or two (or ten) once I make it through security.

I make it into the South Terminal and decipher the signs that eventually lead me to security.  I’m regretting my shoe choice now. I’ve walked about fifteen miles and my cute strappy sandals aren’t keeping up.  Oh well, fashion bitches! They’ve got the dogs out which makes me weirdly happy. I love these security dogs. They are the goodest of boys you guys (Reddit for the win).  This is where we get to the point of why I love airports so much, no not because of the dogs. I love airports because I love watching people, and what better sample of the human population do you encounter than in an airport.  I love imagining up people’s backstories and putting them in their character category in my mind. I speculate on where their heading and what their actions say about them. I decide this one guy I keep passing in the snake like security line has got to be an athlete.  He’s tall and lean but still built, traveling light with kick ass headphones. He reminds me of my brother, therefor I have dubbed him an athlete. I see a couple of kids in line with their moms. I have to refrain from making some sort of mom power arm signal to these women.  Trust me ladies I’ve been there, solidarity. When one of the kids passes by me with his finger stuck up his nose I have to stop myself from knocking his hand away from his face. Mom instincts, they replace all social norms. I see a couple of asian girls snapping away pictures on their phones.  I text husband and ask him if he thinks I should start taking selfies from all angles while I wait in the security line. I REALLY want to but I decide I don’t want to upset fido’s bomb sniffing groove so I refrain.

I make it through security only getting minorly annoyed with the couple in front of me.  Alright, for those who do not know here is the proper security line etiquette: DO NOT take up the majority of the baggage belt by separating every bag, jacket, and electronic you own.  About three hours later I finally reach over and grab my shit.  I move quick while carrying my laptop in my arms until I make it to a bench, I will not be the slow person.  Now it’s plane train time peeps!  Hell yah! There’s nothing better than the flu infested plane train!!!  Now you can catch everyone’s germs before you even board the plane! Except I realize as I go to board this thing that I have no idea what gate I’m headed to.  I scramble to find Delta749 on the monitors and am glad to see that my gate is the first stop for the train. Less germ exposure and I can hopefully finally get some coffee.

It wasn’t really my fault per say that I was running behind schedule this morning.  I had to get kids fed, packed, and ready for school and say lengthy goodbyes before I left the house.   Husband was especially helpful today, standing in the kitchen making repeated half jokes about the plane leaving without me.  Then actually starting to panic that I was going to actually miss my flight. He panicked, not me. I’m starting to wonder what he has planned this weekend that he was that freaked out about me sticking around.  Remind kids to spy on dad. Really though, his barrage of criticisms on my time management was super helpful. I mean way more so than packing a lunch or two. Thanks sweet cheeks! Kisses! Needless to say in my rush I left my sweet sweet morning crack elixor (coffee, I’m talking about coffee guys) on the counter.  I realized it about three minutes into my drive and burst into sobs much to the amusement of the commuter next to me. They may have been taking pictures. You know what, anyone would react this way with the journey I was about to endure! Atlanta traffic and Hartsfield Jackson without caffeine. Balls.

Once I peaced out from the plane train I made it my mission to find some damn coffee, oh and water and gum.  The latter two being more easy to come by. Although the woman behind the counter at the marketplace store was probably literally half my height (homegrown amazon here) and couldn’t reach all the way over the counter.  I have the fine motor skills of a chimpanzee so it was an awkward exchange. Now it was crunch time. Coffee. I was going to start taking people down soon if I didn’t get a hit. About halfway to my gate I find a Dunkin with an acceptable line length.  I won’t have to shive other patrons in line to get my order in faster, hopefully. I bee line over cutting off a group of weary travelers on the way, I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry. Sorry.

To make my wait more bearable I watch what other people order, I wonder if they usually eat breakfasts like this or if their orders are enhanced because they’re traveling.  Now don’t get me wrong I am in no way in the shape I should be, or have been in the past, but I also am not a big donut or morning carb person. I’m thirty five guys, not twenty two.  I had a Yoplait at home, so really all I want is a damn cup of regular coffee. I notice that they are displaying a spring themed donut topped with sprinkles and a full sized candy peep.  Yah, you know those marshmallow ducklings? They put one on a donut. To each their own but I’m pretty sure I would go into diabetic ketoacidosis if I tried to eat that thing. They end up putting the cream and sweetner in my coffee themselves and it tastes like syrup instead of coffee.  I made myself drink half of it just so I was at a functioning level before I board the plane.

Sipping my cup of sugar I realized I still haven’t taken the lorazepam.  All ninja like i try to dig my prescription bottle out of my bag, then sort through all the pills to find one of the tiny white dots of wonder.  I know I’m not supposed to combine all my drugs in one bottle, but I like to travel light and I don’t like sounding like I’m walking around with a pharmacy in my backpack.  I mean I’m not selling the shit, I don’t want to share. I haven’t had alcohol yet though, it’s only eight forty five in the morning. Like I’ve said before, I have standards.  Besides I’m pretty sure they sell hard liquor on planes. I’ll get drunk after boarding.

Since a lot of the traveling I’ve done over the past few years has been for competitive sports trips, yah we’re one of those families, I’m used to traveling on base fares with the lightest luggage possible.  I learned last night that the way Delta has their base fare set is to not give you a seat assignment until you show up at the gate. Meaning I have no idea where I’m sitting and I’m one of the last people to get on the plane.  While I wait husband is texting me to annoy me about being late for the flight again. Seriously, what the fuck does he have planned??? He sends me a find my friend image showing me at the gate. I consider turning around and heading home to make sure he isn’t running a cult out of our basement.  Pretty sure middle kid would be the leader of it if he was. I decide I don’t want to know what is happening in our basement, plausible deniability and all, and stay at the gate. I’m meeting my mother in California and she is seriously about to combust with excitement. Not over me, over the whole wedding.  I’m not that exciting I promise. She is one of two people I know who don’t drink, she should. I may spike her soda at some point this weekend if she can’t calm her shit down. Right now she’s texting me asking if I’m at the gate yet, oh and also SHE CAN”T WAIT! I haven’t had enough coffee yet to deal with this level of crazy so I ignore the text and instead send one to husband asking if I should respond to her saying, “ I’m just parking but I’m so excited!!!”  She has my flight schedule, I regret that decision now. she knows when my plane leaves. I think her brain would break if I sent her that text. She doesn’t get jokes.

After basically everyone else has boarded I finally get my seat number.  I am just hoping it’s not a middle seat, I have about 40 pages I want to try and edit.   This task is going to be really difficult without being able to move my arms or if I think someone is reading my seriously crappy rough draft over my shoulder.  I get 19A, I can work with that, A is usually a window seat. I make my way brutally slowly with the heard of passengers down that tunnel thing, you know the tunnel thing… it make you go plane inside(I honestly don’t have a clue what that thing is actually called).  Some guy in front of me really needs to brush his teeth. It’s gross. I text this to husband and then ask him if I should act like one of those super friendly bubbly people and offer everyone around me a piece of gum, you know, for their popping ears!

I finally make my way down the aisle.  Businessmen who are clearly tragically optimistic that the free seat next to them will not be filled look at me with both resignation and hope in their eyes.  No worry good sirs your plight will carry on, for I have procured myself a window seat… in the exit row! Leg room baby! I send husband a selfie and say, “Guess who’s in charge if there’s an emergency????”  He texts back saying that we’re all doomed. I text the same thing to my mom, she tells me to have a nice flight and she’ll see me at the airport! I told you. She doesn’t get jokes.

I’ve gotten my Lorazepam and Caffeine fix so I’ll probably survive, for now.  I plug in my ear buds and listen to “On A Plain” because I mean, come on. I watch out the window as we taxi to the runway calmer than I would be, but still kind of jumpy.  Then that sound of the engine revving hits me and I know that’s it. There is no turning back at that point. It’s funny because even when I’ve flown sans chemical assistance I always resigned myself to the fact that after take off that’s it.  If you’re going down you’re going down. You’re stuck now bitch, hahahahaha!

Well whatever.  I guess I’ll enjoy my high, maybe get some questionable editing done and start drinking heavily if we hit turbulence.  I mean it’s a wedding weekend right? Let’s get this party started! How early is too early to order tequila?

Baseball.

It’s baseball season, and apparently I have A LOT to say about baseball.  Today alone I’ve made three attempts to write one simple blog post about the good old national pastime.  Up until now I’ve ended up with two short stories and a rambling page of baseball themed nonsense. So, yah, it might take me a while to fully work through this topic. Don’t worry I’m going to try to keep this post to just the basics.  At least my basics.

Wait!  I see the fear in your eyes, don’t run!  No need to panic, I’m not a fanatic, I promise.   You’re not going to be subjected to pages of player stats, playoff projections based on spring training standings, who’s on the DL, or who we should trade.  Nope. Trust me, I don’t care about any of that. Yes, my baseball is the same box of cracker jacks on a warm summer night game as yours, but I’ve never gotten the chance to experience a game as just a fan.  I come from a sort of baseball mafia, if you will.  My Grandfather played baseball, my father played baseball, and my brother plays baseball.  When I say “play baseball” I don’t mean they were the first baseman on their High School team senior year when they won State.  I mean middle kid and I happened to leave the TV on a network channel last night, a game came on and we ended up watching my brother face down The Braves.  Don’t ask me what team he’s on, if I tell you I’d have to kill you (mafia and pseudonym remember?).

Growing up baseball was a constant. We spent weekends at the fields practicing, or in my case fielding balls once I made it clear softball was no longer in my future.  There was always a game taking over our living room television, a running commentary of my father’s take on the mentality of the sport it’s soundtrack. The sounds of Vin Scully’s voice or the Braves Tomahawk Chop would probably put me right back in front of that set at ten years old.  For any baseball aficionados following along the family has southern roots, but we lived in Dodger territory, hence the references. The family schedule revolved around trainings and games. Eventually “vacations” were taken to tournament locations. We just kind of became…the baseball family.

This is where the story turns.  Where I start to get stuck each time I begin on the topic of baseball.  I want to explain what it’s like watching the career of a professional athlete take shape.  I want to explain the importance of the mentality of the game, and that all you couch coaches out there don’t actually have the inside understanding of what’s happening on the field.  I want to explain what I know about players relationships, many that begin as teens. I want to explain that these players were nationally ranked kids far before you ever heard their names.  I really want to explain chronic injuries and how stats don’t matter the way everyone wants them to. I never can quite get to any of this though, I think it’s because I have a more important topic I need to tackle first.

In our family baseball was never a choice.  It was a given. It was stereotypical. You had the parent that couldn’t separate his inability to make it out of the minor leagues, his fate due to lack of either will power or skill.  His failure possibly, even sadder, due to lack of confidence. Like I said, stereotypical. Although, we never did recreate that whole coming of age movie moment with the kid tearfully saying, “it’s your dream, not mine.”  There was no real rebellion, since a major league career was, in fact, my brother’s goal too. Now, there was a turning point for sure. Sometime around the beginning of my brother’s high school career it was made clear to my father that it was time for him to start stepping back.  My brother didn’t need him anymore, he had outgrown the coaching my father was able to offer. This was something I don’t think my father was ever able to fully accept, that he wasn’t needed anymore. He began trying to push himself into my brother’s world. He couldn’t let go, eventually his bleacher coaching became so disruptive he was banned from sitting near the infield at games.  He couldn’t stop himself. The situation became increasingly somber. My father somehow lost his entire identity in his son’s ability to play a game. While our family had been built on shaky ground from the get go, this codependency was the unstable fault line underneath that made our weak foundation begin to crumble. My brother got better. My father lost more control. Son would get moved to a higher level team.  Dad would get reckless. He got called up. Dad had no purpose.

Eventually the only relationship that lasted between the two were post game text messages of advice from a man who had nothing better to do but obsessively watch baseball games.  He desperately clung to a purpose by to give critiques to the players, men who were closer than he had ever been to being experts in the game. Inevitably his desperation caught up to him and created a self destructive breakdown.   This period, wrought with addiction and desperation, resulted in the whole structure of our family crashing down. We were all left to pick up the pieces from the rubble. My brother and I dealt with the instability that followed by constructing a wall blocking us from ever building over the fault again.  My brother and I on one side, my father on the other, trying to make sense of the shambles in front of him. Broken glass and mortar he had built and torn apart himself. My father was never a good man, but a few years after the dust has settled I think I may have a better understanding of how his life snowballed the way it did.  The catalyst always being a stupid game.  

The why of it all we can leave for a four hundred page case study I’ll work on writing once my novel is done.  Right now let’s just focus on the fact that a grown man lost himself so deep into the idea that the only way to succeed in life was to turn his son into a professional baseball player.  This belief was so ingrained in him that when said son no longer needed him he suffocated son. The suffocation to a point that he was pushed out of son’s life. Eventually losing his entire family and own job in the process.  I’m not kidding guys, this was the result.  All over a freaking game.

Do you understand now why it’s so hard for me to just talk about baseball?  It was a slowly burning fire in the basement of my life, eventually rising up and swallowing us all in it’s flames.  For a long time I took all this out on the game itself. I HATED baseball. To me the game symbolized everything that was wrong in my home.  I am pretty sure I didn’t watch a single baseball game from 2005-2011. Then something crazy happened. My brother had been stuck in AA for a while and wasn’t getting any younger, he had decided that this was going to be the last year he played.  He almost walked away mid season. Ironically, or maybe expectedly, the best advice that was given to him was from our father. He said to my brother what I can only imagine he wishes someone had said to him, “If you can walk away and never look back then, awesome, do it.  If you’re going to look back and wonder what if, don’t.”  My brother decided to give it the season.  In September he got called up. I went to my first game in years at Chavez Ravine, home of our childhood summers, to cheer on my little brother.  I still cry sometimes when I see him in person in the middle of a giant stadium fans of the team cheering and supporting him, because you guys I am SO FUCKING PROUD OF HIM.  He always had talent, but when you get to a certain point everyone has talent.  He achieved his goal with sheer hard work, sacrifice, and unwavering determination.  Plus a little bit of being with the right team at the right time. I used to feel like my brother achieved his goal despite my father, but I don’t anymore.  He had the chance to chase his dream because of our father, then suffered the loss of that father in the process.

I am finding now that the bitter feelings that once kept me away from the game are gone, in their place pleasant twinges of nostalgia.  Over time I think my brother and I rewrote our story regarding the game. It helps that he sees the absurdity of it all. He describes his work as, “chasing a ball around a field with other grown men.”  When I think back now to the baseball of our childhood I remember warm summer evenings at Dodger stadium with big silly foam fingers and backwards caps. I remember little league games with the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of cheering parents.  I remember fielding batting practice in the outfield at our school with our Golden Retriever. I remember my brother’s smile when he won, I remember hours upon hours of watching him bounce a ball against a wall because he just couldn’t stop.  I remember that for him and I there was a time when it was just a game, and it was fun.

We now live in this weird existence where I can watch a recap of my brother’s day at work on ESPN.  Seriously, I have never once asked him how work is going. All I have to do is look up his hashtag on twitter, some guy with a handle like @StickAndBalls will be happy to let the whole world know how awful/amazing he thinks my bro is.  We don’t really get to see each other during the season, because even when we do meet it’s for an hour or two for breakfast and then he has to go to the field. It’s impossible to see him at the field because everyone wants a piece of him, and it’s his job to give that to them.  We still dutifully wait by his team’s dugout before the game starts, just to lend our support. We understand, but we miss him and he misses us. This won’t be forever though. Eventually it will be his son’s turn to play, or not play. He’s going to let his son decide for himself.

My kids?  They don’t love baseball, but they don’t hate it.  They think it’s totally normal to see your uncle on TV and that everyone gets to go to the players club at games, or down to the family room.  It just hit middle kid this year that he was being asked for autographs when we stood outside his hotel in San Diego. We discussed plans to meet up at the game for a few minutes (third baseline, right after BP, always) while boys with sharpies in their hands shyly murmured requests for a signature.  He couldn’t say no. My kids like the cotton candy and peanuts, they don’t love Suntrust Park, it’s too hot. They like PNC Park and Federal Street, they’re over long scoreless innings. They like wearing team tshirts, backward caps, and foam fingers. They say “oh cool” when I tell them to “look at the TV, your uncle is on it!”  Then they usually keep on walking out of the room. Yet sometimes, like last night, one of them will sit next to me and route for their uncle’s team for a few innings. They’ll talk about the plays and the calls, they know all the basics of the game but wonder about the intricacies. They’ll ask about players, some of whom I’ve known since we were only a little older than the kids are now.  Others I’ve met over the years at games, restaurants, and hotels. The rookies now look like babies to me, when did that happen? I remember always thinking how the players on TV all looked so old. I sit with them and talk, about the game, the people, and my memories for as long as they’ll listen. Eventually a commercial break will come on and they’ll wander away.

My kids may never have as much to say about baseball as I do, and that’s probably a good thing.  I have realized that I don’t want the family baseball book to close after me. I want them to remember warm summer evenings and “flossing” on the jumbotron.  I hope they someday realize how cool it is to have a player who always meets you at the third base line with a ball to toss your way. I hope they come to understand that in this rewritten version of our family this game has found a way to morph itself into a tie that binds us together, not push us apart.   It’s ten o’clock and the top of the ninth. Middle kid just sat down and asked who’s winning. Her uncle just came into the game, she’s gonna watch him close this thing down.

Grace.

In my youth I was a ballerina.  I spent minutes, upon hours, upon days, upon years criticizing myself in a mirror.  Watching for the slightest flaws and imperfections, striving for an ideal of beauty and a grace that I would never find.  That was the nature of the beast, each one of us pulling and twisting at the bar, pushing ourselves harder to give even more effort across the floor, never having a chance of achieving our absolute goal.  Eventually, at one rehearsal or performance we would be at our best. Maybe that day we would know that this was it, the moment that all the work had been for, the top of our peak. For most of us it snuck up and away quietly, we collected our “good jobs” as we iced our feet and packed our bags ready to go back to the studio to continue our chase towards the perfection that we would never come that close to again.  Whether we had already reached our peak or not we realized that we would never actually perform a dance impeccably. There would be a turn that we came out of a hair too early or a jump that could have been higher, such is the life of a dancer. You wonder why we’re all so wound up. Over time I learned to create lines with my body that would give an illusion of fluidity and ease. I would grab my legs with my hands and pull them into angles that would make them appear more beautiful to my audience, meanwhile stretching my joints to a point that they would never fully recover from.  I learned to balance myself only on the very tip of my toes breaking nails and skin in the process. In the beauty and grace of my dance was the somewhat morbid underside of the cause and effect.

I now have a daughter who is striving for the same ballerina perfection.  She spends most afternoons in class pushing, bending, sweating. She watches the girls around her and uses their success to drive herself forward.  She wants the long high extension, the clean triple pirouette, the over split in the grande jete. Her weekends have been sacrificed for rehearsals, and her social life now centers around the other ballerinas she spends all her time with.  She too understands that she will never be one hundred percent perfect but continues to strive to get as close as possible. Her blisters and muscle pulls battle wounds she shares proudly.

Outside of the studio two of the traits most often attributed to this daughter are grace and beauty.  People watch her because she is, in fact, beautiful and as human beings we enjoy things that are aesthetically pleasing.  Even her movements are beautiful, she holds herself and moves through her world in a way that only comes with years of ballet training.  We tease her regularly for running into walls and tripping over stairs, but watching her tell a story with her hands is like watching an art form.  I supposed that would make sense, dance being a performing art. An art that has been slowly infusing into every aspect of her life. I wonder though, what if the focus on the ideal beauty and the grace she and I have spent so many hours trying to achieve is blinding us to the beauty and grace inherently in our lives?  While this daughter is being complimented on encompassing the ballerina archetype, I look at my other two children and see a beauty and grace in them as well. Just not the versions you are going to find in an opera house on a Saturday night.

We all have our own definition of both Beauty and Grace, most of which are inherently intertwined.  Sometimes we find examples of these qualities it in movement, such as in the ballerinas mentioned above, or in the way a gazelle runs across an open plain.  Daily examples are found in the sky when the wind blows shapes and spirals in the clouds, or when it causes the sway of leaves and branches on a tree. I find grace and beauty in words.  Words that hit me deep in my core. I find examples in books and poems, in some works the entire story or prose striking me, in others just a phrase. At times I find these traits in words that are simply said aloud.  Those perfect pairings shared with you right when you needed to hear them. Some religions find grace and beauty in forgiveness. While I am not someone who tends to find any peace in the act of forgiving and forgetting, I can appreciate the allure.  I imagine this like a grace and beauty in the soul that, much like the ballerina, they are working to consistently perfect.

In our attempts to find and quantify grace and beauty in our lives we often overlook some of the most obvious sources.  Are grace and beauty not inherent in the older woman who has learned from her experiences? She has lost and laughed, watched the world change and observed the people around her as she has lived her life.  Maybe these traits are found in her attempts to share the lessons she has learned, with anyone willing to slow down and listen. Maybe they are in the feet and joints of the dancer. The pain and bruising a simple reminder that she is human, and not invincible.  Perhaps they are in our day to day lives, the warmth we feel when we first sip our coffee in the morning. In the way that I as I sit and edit I wonder if my words are too contrived, then having to remind myself that I have promised to freely write releasing myself from the fear of judgement.

Perhaps we are trying too hard to achieve the ideals of grace and beauty and in the process are losing out on the pieces of these traits we are granted as we live our lives.  Perhaps if we listened to the old woman this is what she would tell us. Her message warning us that in every moment we live and every emotion we feel holds an opportunity we are usually so quick to overlook.  Hopefully we can remind ourselves to pay heed to the little occurrences and observations that hold the beauty and grace we need, while we continue to strive for the ideals and perfections we want.

Sticky.

It’s sticky today.  One of those early spring days in the south where the chill has left the air and the thick atmosphere of summer is beginning to creep back up on us.  When I threw my phone across the room turned off my alarm clock this morning the humidity hit me, lingering even in the house despite the air running all night.  It made me question my decision to wear a sweatshirt to bed. However after dealing with a burst water filter in the kitchen at midnight I didn’t put much thought into my ensemble, I just climbed back into the comforting cocoon under the duvet and six hours of sleep.  

Even after tossing aside the old college sweatshirt, with the little bleach stain I like to ignore, I found little relief.  Hoping to be hit with a rush of cool air when I opened the door to let the dog out I was disappointed to find no reprieve. I stood in the doorway letting even more of the thick air in around me.  I itched to run over to the thermostat and turn it down to a degree that will make my husband complain and my son turn it back up, because after all he is his father’s son. No light should be left on, not thermostat set to a fully comfortable level.  Fine I will sit in the hot dark living room drinking coffee while I sweat. First world problems, I know.

I suck up my growing moist discomfort and wait for the dog who is getting old and slow.  She takes her sweet time sniffing the air and strolling the yard knowing she won’t have the opportunity to get outside again at least for a few hours.  I end up leaving the backdoor cracked for her, I can’t actually close it to preserve the cool inside because she won’t make a sound to be let back in. We trained her too well.  So well that two years ago after getting locked out for half an hour and patiently sitting by the back window waiting for us to notice and let her back in she cut her loses. Figuring we had forgotten her for good she took off to find a new home.  She knew she was going to die from hunger soon, despite having been fed an hour earlier. Understanding her very dire situation it made sense that she was found a few houses down in the neighbors garage helping herself to the bowl of food they had just put out for their dog.  I kind of love the old fart.

I feed groggy children and warn them it’s going to be warm and humid today, so of course they all come back downstairs in jeans and two of them in long sleeves.  I’m glad I say words to them. They clearly appreciate my attempts to ensure their comfort. Oh well. I still end up considering looking up a recipe to make them cookies using the giant costco jar of nutella my husband came home with a few weeks ago.  It’s Friday after all, cookies on the table after school is an acceptable luxury. Plus I don’t have to actually sign in to any job today, I have the time for such indulgences. Eventually I’ll reach my word limit for the day and need to take a break from writing.  Baking is a good activity for that.

Middle kid tells me that today she has a field trip to tour the middle school she is headed to in August.  Older kid is already at said school. I separately tell them to try and embarrass the other one if they see each other.  This might be purely for my own amusement, I hope they do it, because that would be fucking funny.

Water is falling from the sky off and on but not in steady streams.  Soon we’ll be back to the rolling thunderstorms of summer that cool off the afternoons making the choice to have settled here bearable in July and August, but right now its tornado season.  We don’t get tornados too bad here but we were on a watch yesterday evening. It was the main topic of discussion at older kids tech rehearsal for this weekend’s show. I remember again she has dress rehearsal tonight.  Mental note, five thirty at the theater, traffic was bad yesterday leave early. Heavy rain is suddenly pounding on the ceiling, but I hear it first on the chimney flute. Now I wonder if I remembered to shut it after the last winter fire we set.  I tell myself I’ll check later, but I probably won’t.

The rain makes people completely incapable of driving but it at least washes the pollen out of the air.  The pine tree pods haven’t opened yet but we’re probably only a week or two away from that, then the whole city will turn yellow.  We suffer under the haze of tree reproduction until more heavy rain comes through, on another sticky day, and washes it down the street.  We are able to watch cheering while it disappears down storm drains.

I wait in the drop off line at the middle school reminding older kid to embarrass middle kid even giving her examples, a how to guide, that she half heartedly chuckles at.  She’s not going to do it. She’s a dork. I realize that I’m either going to produce a totally traumatized adult or a hilarious one. If she ends up being a functioning part of society I guess I’ll consider my child rearing a success either way.  I only offered to drive her today because I have to drop the ageing dog off at the vet this morning and her stop is on my way. Judging by the line at the middle school a lot of the other parents are pretty sure their precious babies are going to melt if the ominous sky water touches them while they wait at the bus stop.  I fear for the future of my offspring’s generation. Older kid side eyes someone dressed in the school mascot outfit holding up a sign for some student election coming up. She’s not impressed. I feel for the unlucky kid in the stupid costume, this isn’t a day for outside mascots. The school could have been sympathetic and at least let the poor kid stand inside the front entrance.   A perfect example of the exceptional problem solving of our public education system hard at work here folks. I muse on the fact that my kids are going to arrive home sweaty faced and frizzy haired while I make my way to the vet in shorts and a t-shirt, still sticky. At least they’ll have cookies.

Nirvana.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana recently.  It started with my just turned eleven year old daughter and her introduction to the band.  This particular daughter is basically just a recreation of my young self, both in appearance and mental stability (aka lack there of).  She has recently found a connection with music, one that I can understand and appreciate. Her new found fascination began when she discovered that Billie Eilish’s songs speak to her. She reveres these songs as some sort of gospel in that middle school “no one else could possibly understand her” kind of way.  Gone are last summer’s Taylor Swift sing alongs, and gushing with friends about their first real concert experience at the Reputation tour. I don’t think she’d let herself be caught dead listening to Bad Blood now. She has standards. She has Billie posters on her walls, she tells us facts about Billie, her kindred soul.  Facts of such importance like how her brother was a character on Glee, a show that seems was just relevant, but she has only seen in streaming re-runs. Since music has always been a source of therapeutic relief in my life I get it. When I heard “Bellyache” fifteen times in a row (I mean seriously I’m pretty sure I could figure out the whole song by memory if handed an instrument now) I got it.  So one night while she drilled me on what music I liked, and “Oh! Have you heard this Billie Eilish song???” (yah dude I have the album on my phone, I’m not as out of touch as you think I am) I decided it was time to educate her on all the amazing music out there that her “I know everything” little mind had never stopped to appreciate.

I asked her if she ever listens to Nirvana.  She kind of shrugged and was like, yah I guess I’ve heard their songs.  Now I KNOW she’s heard them, the same ones that were played in the 90’s non stop still pop up on our alternative radio station when I’m chauffeuring her around.  Yes, I still listen to regular radio in the car, I’m all old school like that. In my defense my husband listens to political podcasts. Pretty sure he’s going to be yelling at the neighborhood kids to get of his lawn soon.  Projecting back her oh so familiar pre-teen attitude of ya-you-think-you-know-but-you-have-no-idea I said okay, but really do you KNOW Nirvana? Because I have a feeling you and the deep little artistic soul that is bouncing around waiting to break free from you will attach to Nirvana’s music like a leech.

So firing up the old YouTube on our Smart TV I pulled up Nirvana at Redding.  Let me take a minute here to reflect on the instant gratification of not only YouTube but also the fact that I can now pull it up on my TV.  I mean really? When I was her age I was still just hoping my favorite song played on the radio so I could record it on the cassette recorder I had placed next to the speaker.  Without fail the damn DJ would ALWAYS cut in before those last few chords of the song had dissipated. So was life in 1994. I would live with that scratchy interrupted version of my my music until I earned enough money to get to Tower Records and buy the album.  

Carrying on, Nirvana at Redding is one of those truly epic concerts that music aficionados, such as myself and my eleven year old (clearly), will still be enraptured with decades down the road.  I mean I expect that when our education system begins teaching pop culture history of our time period this event will have it’s very own page in the history books. Just like I expected she was enthralled.  My eight year old son did his best impression of dancing man (not gonna lie, he was concerningly good at the part) while we fell into a discussion appreciating the magic of the event. The whole performance still so oddly bewitching even through old streaming video. I explained Nirvana’s influence in music while she tried to wrap her head around Kurt Cobain’s hospital gown.  We discussed the meaning behind his lyrics, talked the intricacies of Lithium. Not only the song but the actual drug which I have had an on again off again fling with since my late teens. When she asked if he was still around, picking up on the fact that something was off about the way he was being talked about, we discussed his untimely death. She took it all in, her far too wise and deep for her young age mind processing and coming to understand a piece of the beautiful and tragic impact Nirvana had on the world of music and youth in the 90’s.

Since this introduction her homogenous playlist of Billie Eillish is no longer the only music I can hear on repeat filtering through the door to her room.  Her alexa now also constantly playing “Come as you Are,” “Rape Me,” and “Lithium,” the latter being one of her favorites. The opening lines of Lithium seems to strike a chord with her tween girl angst and inevitable restructuring of friendships.  She is feeling this particularly hard at the moment as she has spent the last three years using her oddly mature understanding of human interaction to build a web of popularity she now wants out of. She’s tired of being the social performing monkey of her peers.  She is beginning to realize her “friends” aren’t really all that friendly or supportive. While she may not fully yet comprehend the true meaning behind “I’ve found my friends, they’re in my head” the lyrics struck a chord in a way that makes her feel understood, and isn’t that what lyrics are meant for anyway?  After all any artist that needs their audience to connect to their work only in the way they did when they created it is in for disappointment.

So in her new found love of the music that I too had set to repeat years ago, when I finally got a CD player (remember those?  My car actually still has one. I think my car might be getting old…). I found myself reconnecting and once again finding meaning in the songs.  As an adult I have a new appreciation and a different connection than I did as a teen. Gone are the days of thinking that a band or singer was the only person/people in the world that could ever understand the way I felt.  Instead of the dramatic angst of yesteryear I find myself grateful that someone took the time and was eloquent enough in their descriptions to not only so perfectly capture a time and a world that we have moved forward from, but to also capture raw human emotion.  It is these emotions infused in the music that have the power to connect us. Giving us comfort in knowing someone might be able to empathize, especially when we feel misunderstood. In my mid thirties as I come out of the trance of a decade devoted to parenthood I crave a connection that doesn’t involve PTA meetings or gymnastics meets, and when I hear these songs that is what I find.  Maybe I have graduated from my angsty adolescent behavior but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel the same thrills and disappointments. Nor am I any less crazy than I was back then, I’ve only learned how to function at a slightly more acceptable level.

So I will continue to pop in my earbuds and play “Nevermind” on repeat until my mood shifts and I connect or reconnect to another artist.  My daughter will do the same and hopefully we will continue to share our new and old findings, connecting with not only the music but with each other in the process.  I find myself making mental lists of what artists to share with her next, Foo Fighters is an obvious choice. I actually have videos on my phone from their amazing concert in Centennial Park a few years ago.  You remember that tour when Dave Grohl was recovering from a badly broken leg but was so rockstar he performed in a medical boot and made it look cool? I tried Fiona Apple last weekend, her music reminding me of a 90’s version of Billie Eilish, my daughter wasn’t sold.  Maybe when I set my Pandora to one of the alt stations I have saved, a song I have forgotten about will pop up and we will spend weeks with Green Day or The Yah Yah Yah’s on repeat. Also, dear daughter, don’t think for a second I haven’t heard those late 90’s pop punk songs filtering out from your bedroom too.  Just so you know I know every word to those songs and spent many summer nights singing them at the top of my lungs in some open air concert venue or on college evenings bobbing my head to the beat in a glorified bar with a small stage in San Francisco. I know you better than you think babe.