Sunday, August 16, 2015

Friday, August 7, 2015

Dad's Summer Reading Program: Satisfying Book Recommendations

Having started Dad's Summer Reading Program two years ago, I can now qualify it as a moderate success.  The original objective of getting our younger son to read more might have happened anyway, but it seemed to kick start him that year, and he's been a pretty solid pleasure reader since then.

This year, the boys raced out to their first incentive milestone and then flagged a bit.  Family vacation and two weeks at camp cut reading time, although our older son reprised his adorable vacation habit of reading Dave Barry books aloud with his cousin who's about a year older.

Although the quantity of reading has not been fabulous, I was very satisfied when two books that I picked up at the library unbidden for our rising eighth grader resonated nicely.  Competent Mother and I both really enjoyed Lois Lowry's A Summer To Die.  Actually, that's the book that turned me into a reader-for-pleasure.  CM also loved Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.  Although the boy raved about neither book, he finished both of them before we knew it and said - with a thirteen-year-old's* nonchalance, "Oh yeah.  I liked them."  Super pleased that the (recent) classics still appeal, despite all of the new options.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Particle Roundup July 2015

One in an occasional series, a roundup of parenting articles (particles) that have caught my attention or been virtually shoved in front of my wandering eyeballs.

The Letter your Teenager Can't Write You
Weeks away from having a teenager, I was interested in this one.  It makes a strong argument for hanging in there when it feels like there's no point. 

I raised an addict - what could I have done differently?
Knowing some addicts of different ages, I have often wondered about whether a moment occurred that - if handled differently - could have changed a path.  This essay implores parents to be knowledgeable about the availability of drugs because even raising a kid well to the point that he or she looks happy and ready for life does not ensure against that child finding a source at just the wrong moment and throwing a ton away.

Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children
In other bleak addiction news, screen addiction in China and elsewhere. Pretty happy my kids are at a no-electronic-devices old-school summer camp for two weeks.  Maybe there's one of those for me?

What if Everything You Knew about Disciplining Kids was Wrong?
Stats on suspension can be disturbing, especially among really small kids.  As a kid who got high marks in everything but penmanship and conduct and who knew his way around the elementary school principal's office because of the latter, this was an interesting read.

The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogota
Not strictly about parenting, but the latest, most fascinating contribution to the nature vs. nurture question.  Two sets of identical twins in a Bogota hospital get crossed up.  Each family ends up with a non-biological son who happens also to have a twin out there.  All four twins meet in adulthood. 

For what it's worth, I read all of these articles using Pocket on my phone, here and there when I could.  Actually, for the letter from your teenager, I listened to it via Pocket's text-to-speech monotone robot.  That was an interesting medium for the raw emotion of that essay.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Poem: Mining in Tandem

I didn't write this poem in response to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner's marriage and divorcePunditry about their divorce, which is either (charitably) hair-splitting or (more viscerally) asinine, did inspire me to post it now, though.

Mining in Tandem
an original poem by Jeff Forster

In the wedding cards of
family and friends,
we write,
"Welcome to the institution." Ha!
"Marriage is fun."
We don't write,
"Work like hell."
But we probably should.

It's hard to picture one of those
not-believably-rustic Pottery Barn plaques
with the slogan printed in
some harmless font:
"Fall in love.  Stick together.
Work like hell."

There's a lot to overcome
deep down in any one of us.
When we put two down deeps
together, why wouldn't we
guess that it would be a ton of work?

It's like mining in tandem.
Holding onto one another while chipping
away at all that lies down deep.

Holding the line.  Shining a light on
each other.
Working.  Like hell.

The reward for all this work is not
some pile of gold or jewels
or even coal.
The reward is discovering
that it is possible
to bring each other out of the dark.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pirates Predictions: Midseason Update

As with my beginning-of-season post, I'm posting this one game late.  The Pirates won the 82nd game of their season tonight.  But I did the math after 81 games to project the Pirates win totals against our predictions.  Charlie, who has won the contest two of the four years we've done it, is on track again.  If the Pirates extended a 47-34 over 162 games, they'll win 94 this year.  And probably still finish in second place in the NL Central to the Cardinals.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Haiku: First World Problems

Beach house. Open floor
plan. Thin walls.  Hollow core doors.
Good luck sleeping in.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On Hanging Up Cleats

My 12-year-old's cleats are still in the entryway.  They've been there since last Tuesday
evening, when his little league team lost in the championship game of his in-house league's "World Series."  Since he doesn't play on the travel tournament team in the summer, his season is over.  We usually insist on the kids putting away shoes that they're not going to wear again soon; the entryway is too small for extra shoes.  I haven't told him to put his cleats away yet, though, because it feels really different to tell him that when it's almost certainly the last time.

We started pitching to him in our tiny backyard when he was two years old.  It started with a plastic bat and a big supermarket ball with Winnie the Pooh on it.  Because his mother and I both love baseball, there was no question that we'd try to share that love with him.  He loved hitting that ball in the yard, and he got better and better at it.  We went through a sequence of bats and smaller and smaller balls until he was drilling pint sized wiffle ball home runs over the hedge into the neighbors' equally tiny back yard.
Outside an Erie Seawolves (AA) game, age 3

After one season of tee ball (which felt like a regression after batting live pitches all that time), he joined our neighborhood youth league, progressing through three levels with rules that more and more match real baseball.  He's had better and worse seasons, finally settling in as a reliable fielder, mostly because he's always been a smart player who knew what to do based on the game situation.  He loves playing catcher, and that's an important position because kid pitches aren't super accurate, and baserunners can steal at his current level.  At the plate, he developed a fear of the ball around when he started facing kid pitchers, and it's dogged him.  One season, he accommodated it by dancing in the batter's box, his skinny butt bouncing around above springy knees.  This year, despite the fact that he was one of the oldest members of his team, he reverted to not swinging when he should and even diving out of the box.  All of this is to say that as much as he loves and knows baseball, he ended up being in the middle of the pack on his team in terms of overall contribution.

So he's decided that, unless something big changes, this is his last year playing baseball.  He'll return to his school volleyball team in the fall, and he's thinking about ultimate frisbee in high school.  He shoots a lot of hoops at recess.  But he's officially given up one career path - professional baseball player.

So his cleats are still in the entryway.  When I counted up the years, I realized he's played eight spring seasons, plus almost as many fall "developmental league" seasons.  He's only 12!  Collectively, our family has spent a significant amount of the last eight Aprils, Mays and Junes on the sidelines of his games.  When those cleats go away, it will feel like a chapter is closing.  And it will be.

Before the World Series, his team had to advance out of a best-of-three semifinal series.  They won the first game handily.  The second game was much tighter, and it got to be tied in extra innings (the seventh, since standard games are six innings).  Charlie's team - the home team - got two on with one out in the bottom of the seventh when Charlie came up to bat.  His confidence issues at the plate loomed.  The last thing I wanted to see was him looking at a called strike three with runners on first and second in that situation.  After a few pitches, he made contact and grounded a ball toward the second baseman.  It probably should have been an out, but he didn't field it cleanly, and it rolled under his glove.  The runner on second was fast, and he took off.  When the third base coach saw the ball behind the second-baseman, he sent the runner, and he scored.  Charlie had hit the walk-off series-clinching RBI single to send his team to the World Series.  There are no pictures or video of the event.  When they won, I saw Charlie run back from first base to get jumped on by his teammates, and I happened to be nearby down the third base line when he emerged from that celebration.  I don't need video; I will never forget the look of relief and satisfaction and excitement on his face.  Big-eyed, sweaty and thrilled.  He has always approached baseball from a team-first perspective - the loudest rooter-on of his teammates, playing wherever coaches told him to play, learning from his elders and encouraging younger players.  When the chips were down, he came through for his team, and they won, and helping the team meant the world to him.

A few days later, walking home after the World Series loss, Charlie laid his head on my shoulder and cried.  I asked him if he was sad because they lost or sad because baseball season was over.  He couldn't really answer.  I told him that losing is sad, and ending is sad.  Later on, he said wistfully "I didn't want another stinking runner-up trophy." (His team lost in game three of last year's World Series, too.)  

It's not just this season that's ending.  Maybe Charlie knew that and just couldn't articulate it.  We can't fight it.  Childhood must end.  Adolescence - with its leaps and storms - must commence.  Successful parenting prepares for departure.  But for now, as if a brake against the inevitable, his cleats are still in the entryway.