Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear Little League, thank you for ending.

This post will likely eliminate me from Father of the Year nominations for 2011, but I'm usually out of the running for a far worse offense by June anyway. Our 8-year-old plays little league baseball. In theory, this makes me very happy. We're a family of baseball lovers, and I never got to play little league as a kid so I'm glad he can. In practice, however, baseball ruins our family life. The effects creep up slowly, but about four weeks into the season when the house is surprisingly messy and we've eaten one square dinner as a family in the last ten days and Paige and I find ourselves getting short with the kids while simultaneously (silently) considering marriage counseling, we realize that it's happened again. Baseball season has shaken our tenuous equilibrium to its foundation.

Multiple reasons contribute to produce this insanity. First, our already-tight family schedule can't easily accommodate six hours per week of any additional activity. His games were mostly on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings this year. It's really hard to give up a leisurely family Saturday morning for 8-10 weeks in a row. There's no time in our week like that, and when baseball takes it away, we really miss it. The Thursdays were especially fun because Charlie also had trumpet lessons after school. The drill was:
-Pack the trumpet and baseball bag in the car in the morning.
-Send Charlie to school with a note that he was not to get on the bus.
-Drive from downtown to the East End of town to pick him up at 3:52 on the steps of the school
-Drive the 12-18-minute drive to the lessons location; lessons were meant to start at 4:00, but I couldn't get the boy until 3:52, so...the attendance postcards mostly said "Student had lesson; student was late."
-Kill time during the lesson. Thank the Good Lord for the library next door to the lesson location.
-Bring the baseball bag in to meet Charlie at the end of lesson time and help him get changed in the men's room.
-Buy and eat pizza on the way from trumpet to pick up Teddy at childcare.
-Drop Charlie at the field.
-Take Teddy up to the bagel place and get a bagel and cream cheese (part of this non-nutritious dinner!).
-Go back to the field and nag Teddy to eat while distracted by all the wonders of the ballfield/playground. Keeping ants off the cream cheese earns bonus points.
-Drag home at dark and get the boys into bed.

(As I write this out and complain about it, I think about all that I have to be thankful for in the opportunity to safely provide my physically and mentally healthy child with music instruction and baseball instruction/competition in a free country with a viable economy and a dependable food system. Now, without further ado, back to the whining.)

Second, he plays in the spring when his school and a board that I serve on cram in lots of events between winter's chill and summer vacations. Third, although we're lucky-smart in that we can walk from our house to one of the fields his league uses, most of the games are at the field we have to drive to. That extra transit adds to the stress. Fourth, there are the rainouts. A few times, we got all ramped up to go and got the rainout call just in the nick of time. At least once, we got all the way to the field before finding out the game had been delayed two hours to let the field dry out. Great! I'd set aside this three hours in my weekend
; now you want those three hours later today?

When our routine is not being upset by time at and getting to and from the field, there's the added burden of laundry. Grade schoolers in white pants in a rainy spring make for a whole lot of elbow grease and Oxi-clean.
During a game played in the rain, I joked that the coaches and ump should have to wash the uniforms afterward for not calling the game. Charlie's butt was one brown smear from his two innings as catcher in a very soupy backstop. I've ragged on this before in this space, and I come around to it again because it adds a serious burden to have to stain-treat and soak and attempt to bleach in the sun a single garment when the entire family's laundry still needs to get clean. In future, we may adopt the strategy of Roy and Melinda, wily vet parents of brothers on Charlie's team who now only purchase black baseball pants.

Little League is the only organized sport Charlie has played. Although we have had him play in the fall season (in addition to the standard spring), which is always kind of a bust, we're not psycho about having our kids play like crazy. When I talk to parents whose kids play mutliple sports throughout the year or at the same time, I just can't fathom it. Ten weeks at a stretch takes us right to the brink. How can these families possibly maintain any equilibrium? The coaches - to whom we are all indebted - have a little bit of crazy in them. They tend to be a head coach on one of their kids' teams plus an assistant on another of their kids' teams. I don't know how they do it.

My standard joke about sports parenting is that we want to marry someone else. It doesn't matter if it's a man or a woman as long as he/she has a car and can do the driving and the waiting and the picking up. Society permits all kinds of things these days; why not sports-parent-driven polygamy?

In the end, Charlie's team - the Rangers -won their league's World Series. There's a video of the celebration below. That was cool, and I know that Charlie may never play on another championship team of any form ever again. He'll get a trophy at the league picnic. For now, our family's reward is getting our Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings back. Whew. Sweet success!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Story of a Champion: Bible Quiz

Last weekend marked 20 years since my second championship in a church Bible memorization competition called "Bible Bowl". Ironically, on Sunday as a lay reader at church, I ended up reading a passage from Acts 2 that I had memorized one of those years that I competed. "Parthians, Medes and Elamites...". The connection made me a little nostalgic for this quirky chapter in my life, and I thought I'd share some memories of it with you, dear readers.

As a pastors' kid who moved around all the time, I wasn't very involved in school activities. Church activities dominated my schedule, and it turns out that my gifts lent themselves to the bloodsport of memorizing scripture and then reciting it or answering quiz questions about it. Bible Bowl was a speed game with three teams of four players each competing to buzz in and answer questions read by the quizmaster.

When I started as an eighth or ninth grader, our teams muddled along and always lost at Regionals to this team lead by a guy named Glen Wendt. Spectators tossed around the word "genius" during his reign of terror. I always thought machine suited him better. He was to Bible Bowl what Pete Sampras was to tennis in their respective primes. The answers came out, but there was little emotion. Sweater vests? Yes. Gold-framed glasses? Yes. Emotion? No.

The summer before junior year of high school, I moved from Pittsburgh to New Jersey. I had few friends and a new crop of competition for Bible Bowl. We were in a different region, and the Wendt Machine had either aged out of Bible Bowl, or at least we wouldn't face him unt
il Territorials (the big championship). I lost track of the dude because I never really knew him, and I honestly don't know if I ever faced him in those later years.

What I did do - lacking a social life - was get very good at Bible Bowl.
All of the standard questions and bonus verse memorization questions came from a designated book or a few books of the Bible per year. On a team of four, we'd then divide the designated book(s) among us, memorizing verses and drilling on questions. I read my sections every morning at breakfast, reading as far as I could while I ate my cereal and then picking up the loop where I'd stopped the next day. I quickly became the anchor for my team and - cockily - started memorizing some of the bonus verses in my teammates' sections. (The author is on the right, braced for competition in the photo).

This would make a better story if I could remember specific competitions that year, especially the important ones at regionals and territorials. I can't remember enough details for that, but I can offer a few vignettes. We always did a "systems check" before competition to ensure that everyone's buzzer was working properly. One time, bored with the proceedings, I brought a realistic looking water gun (when one could still buy one), pointed the gun in the air and conducted the systems check with the point of the barrel. In intense anxiety situations, I always puked in my youth. Before the first Territorial championship that I won, I did have to bolt out a side door and find an out-of-the-way spot across the parking lot to empty my nervous guts. My coach came and found me and inquired as to my health. I honestly said that I was fine and felt much better. Also, I skipped prom to compete in the Territorial championships, twice. There wasn't definitely a girl who would have gone with me had I asked, so it kind of solved a problem for me to have "something better to do" on those nights. My brother - better with the ladies but worse at bonus questions than I - drove from the second championship to the tail end of senior prom, where he relieved his date's older brother of stand-in date duty.

Finally, I remember the delirious joy of winning at something I'd worked so hard at with my teammates. Accomplishing the ultimate goal after working hard and focusing on it for months at a time provided an awesome feeling of satisfaction.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Parental Entertainment Improvisation

Today, I shall feature the innovative entertainment techniques of two sets of college friend parents I saw at a wedding in Chicago last week.

-E & S both work full time while raising a three-year-old and nearly one-year-old. They both have responsible jobs, and they find themselves with very little time. They moved into a new apartment just days before the baby was born. They don't have a TV. They said when they get a hankering to watch a movie, they just go online and watch ten trailers and then go to bed. That way, they at least know what their less-busy friends and coworkers are talking about when the subject of movies comes up. They said if they really like a trailer, they'll watch it a second time.
-L & A (whose last name start with J) have four boys ranging from 4 to 14. They live and work in the Washington, DC area. A told me that he would really like it if they could go out to a club and dance once in a while. He went out one night with a male friend to try out a club they could take their wives to, but it was really cold, and it was hard to park, and they just turned around and drove home. After that attempt, L & A hit on a new strategy: they bought two strobe lights and a disco ball. When they get that club hankering, they put their boys to bed, pull out the strobes and disco ball and set them up in the basement. They turn on music and dance, just the two of them. They call it "Club J". It's the best thing I've heard of in a long time that a couple does to keep the fun and magic in their marriage.

So there you go: parenting life too full of hassles? Just go to the previews in your living room, or put a velvet rope in front of the basement door and shake your tail feather down there.