all star tear jerk

I’d been in the room about 42 seconds when the tears started. Why? Why? Why did I have to wear mascara today of all days?

Wedding? No, that was five days ago, and I waited two full minutes ‘til I unapologetically turned on the waterworks. Graduation? Nope. Moving church service? Not this time. Stepping through the gates at Disneyland?  Don’t I wish.

It was the flippin’ ESPYs.

My back was to John who was in the kitchen tossing a perfectly dressed salad with fruit and everything. He’d once again magically created an honest-to-goodness meal out of the random contents of our fridge, and I was standing mesmerized by ESPN’s annual awards show and a year’s worth of highlight reels.

The screen flashed with jaw dropping 3-pointers, bone-crunching hits, gravity defying catches and mind-blowing runs. There was jubilation and celebration and many, many dogpiles.  But, this wasn’t your average recap show. Those are on every day in this house, to the point where it feels like I am watching highlights of the last highlights show.  I have never had to sit down with a box of tissues to get through those.

They really upped the ante here – there was music, slow-mo and the critical close-up shots of their triumphant and/or heartbroken faces. And with that little bit of editing trickery, they seemed to turn these well-paid, famous yet often faceless athletes into extraordinary people with annoyingly extraordinary abilities and certainly compelling stories… and me into a weepy mess.

Just when I thought I’d pulled myself together, they go and show all the athletes that died this year. I recognized Jack Lalane, and that was it. The other grizzled and determined faces on the screen were pictured mostly in black and white or the grainy film of the ‘70s or 1994, like when you watch a re-run of Friends.  But these folks had been outstanding athletes in their heyday, probably even heroes.

Suddenly, things became very clear in my head, and it went something like this: “How inspirational! I get it. I get the true allure of sports and athleticism, and the home team. Why, these are people who are using their God given abilities! It’s important to have drive and discipline and sportsmanship. This is good for the morale of our country! I’m really glad we have Jake in basketball camp…that’s an investment in his future. It’s good for him as a person, and for the nation, really. John’s probably going to have a lot of sermon illustrations after this.”

And then… the show started.

No. No. No. Oh my gosh, yes. I had just cried at the introduction. Of the ESPYs.

The very funny Seth Meyers took the stage and in his opening monologue teased Brian Wilson about his beard and his spandex tuxedo, and I chuckled loudly with a little over compensatory show-offiness, asking some camouflaging questions about the All-Star break, while swooping around futzing with the dinner plates.

The 10-year-old looked at me sideways, “Are you crying?”

“What? Are you serious? Here, have some more salad. How was basketball camp?”

don’t call that vintage: ‘dos and wheels

We took the boys in for haircuts the other day. Zach climbed up into the chair shaped like a race car and asked confidently for the “Buster Posey,” while Jake’s stylist and I stood over his impressive noggin of thick hair, pawing at it. She said “texturize” a few times and I nodded solemnly. We swept it over his eyes this way and that, and I gave the international signal for “No ‘Dumb and Dumber’ bangs please.” She looked horrified that I would even suggest such a thing would be possible on her watch. But you have to ask – you have to get it out on record that there are to be no straight across bowl cut bangs. We’ve been burned by that before.

That very morning the boys had been running about the baseball fields as the parents sat in the stands lamenting the states of each of our kid’s hair. Everybody’s was long and flopping into their eyes. And now thanks to baseball season, they were having to try to contain their locks under their hats, where we could also count on the bonus of all that sweat. The older boys are of course now responsible for the washing and the rinsing of the hair, which only makes me wonder how many layers of sweat we’re talking about, really.

Courtney the stylist whirled around Jacob like a blonde satellite – her brow furrowed and those funny scissors with all the teethy things snipping away in a blinding blur.  She circled him a dozen more times after she stopped snipping to swoosh the hair around again with her fingers. When she was finally satisfied with the swooshiness I suppose, she swung his chair around so I could see the results. “I love it,” I said loudly and matter-of-factly.  John leaned over to me and asked if there had actually been any hairs cut. It was my turn to roll my eyes. “It’s the style,” I said with the indignant emphasis of a teenage girl whose own style was being questioned, as I walked over to join them and swoosh it around too. Courtney, at my side, hands on her hips, chimed in. “It is….it is the style.” John shrugged and looked out the window to the parking lot, now painfully aware he was sitting in a room not only full of women who took pride in staying current with 10-year-old boys’ hairstyles, but also little boys who were too wrapped up in “Scooby Doo” to be of any help to him.

Jake grabbed his banana split lollipop out of the basket and took his spot next to us on the bench while we waited for Zach’s 1977 Luke Skywalker fluffy mane (his second go-round with this) to be shorn into the Buster Posey. The lollipop was still in Jake’s mouth, when in all seriousness he asked, “can we go to the mall?” John and I looked at each other, and busted out laughing like a couple of tired and predictable sitcom parents.

“What? What’ so funny?” Jake asked, still swirling the lollipop.

There was our little boy, with his styled hair, dirty baseball uniform, Kojak lollipop asking us to go to the mall, in his voice that seemed deeper than it was yesterday.

“Nothing,” was all we could say as we regained our composure. There was no way that he would be able to see himself as we saw him in that moment. Like he was going to ask for a 10-spot and the keys to the ’81 Camaro.

He comes by it naturally I suppose – I’m not making up the part about the ’81 Camaro. His father and I have logged many an hour driving around in an ’81 Camaro. John’s family bought it new back in the day, and he recalls with a gleam in his eye the day they got the call it had arrived. He was pulled out of school, and they headed off to the nearby metropolis of Twin Falls, Idaho to pick it up. I like to picture John in the teensy backseat with the silver interior, beneath the t-tops, with his own crooked haircut and big brown eyes. I also like to imagine him sticking his tongue out at the other kids as his family drove triumphantly through the streets of his very small and gossipy hometown.

John ended up bringing the Camaro, silver interior, t-tops and all, to college in LA where he fielded purchase offers nearly every time we stopped to get gas. He tried to teach me how to drive its manual transmission, but that was a short-lived and failed endeavor. I would instead be in charge of switching out the Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins CDs in the Discman. Still a very important job.

When we got married and moved to San Francisco, we knew the Camaro would not match with our new urbane lifestyle, so it went back to Idaho where it was quite literally put out to pasture. Whenever we go up for a visit, John takes a few minutes alone to trudge out to the field where the Camaro now sits. One year, he glumly reported that wasps had taken up residence under the hood.

Jake points out with excitement new Camaros every time he sees one. (I’m still waiting for the comeback of my childhood car – the Chrysler Cordoba. It’s imminent, I’m certain.) Then the guys get kinda quiet, with what I’m guessing are the wistful thoughts of the wasp hive with t-tops sitting in the field, and their not-so-secret dream of resurrecting it one day. One of them, after all, does have the hair for it.

That’s a high school John and the family Camaro, circa 1991

opening day

The morning sky was still dark, and Zach stood at the foot of my bed, dressed in his crisp new baseball pants, shirt, socks, and hat… staring at me. With one eye open, and still as under-the-covers as I could get away with, I leaned out to thread his belt through the loops. I sent him merrily back to his room to give me five more minutes of quiet before we’d have to start racing through the house, collecting every camera we have, and hoisting the boys into the car, all so we could make it to the parade staging area for the pre-dawn (not really) call time.  

Though still reeling from the heartbreaking news from across the globe, and like many a U.S. city this weekend, our town continued on with baseball Opening Day for the kiddos.

I found a log to perch myself on along the parade route, and tried to wish a large coffee into existence.  But then, it was here! The parade was here! At the front were, I’m guessing very important local dignitaries in satin jackets being chauffeured in classic cars, waving at me. Yep, me. When it’s a little parade, you don’t have the comforting shroud of anonymity, and they are in fact waving directly at you. Awkward or not, you have to wave back. Finally the teams started coming by. The teenagers looked tired, the kids Jake’s age looked at their shoes, working hard not to make eye contact or wave at their parents. The kids in Zach’s age division were yelling and cheering and high-fiving anybody they could get their hands on.  When Zach’s team finally walked by, he was yelling “Let’s go Yankees!”  and “yeaaahhhh!” In the very brief time I had a visual on the team, John, in his coach shirt, had to gently redirect one little Yankee out of the crowd and back to his group four times. John caught my eye and I could tell it had been a very long little parade.

All of the pomp and fanfare suddenly gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia for an era that I never even experienced first-hand. There were balloon arches and flags and pennants hanging from every fence and post. There were bounce houses, police blockades, boy scouts, face painting, sunshine, lawn chairs, hot dogs and more cameras than you can shake a stick out. The mayor spoke, as did the chief of police and the parks department guy, who John would only refer to as Ron Swanson (please please tell me you watch Parks & Recreation.)

Zach had been counting down to this day for the last three years….the day that he would finally take the field as a real-life baseball player. Up to this point, he’d sat wide-eyed in the bleachers, dressed head to toe in his brother’s team colors, glove in his lap, bat at the ready, and often sporting a batting helmet…yes, sitting in the stands wearing his batting helmet, on the off-chance he was suddenly going to be called up. Unlike the other little brothers, he didn’t run off to the playground, beg to go home or whine about being bored. He did ask for snacks every 5-10 minutes, but there he sat, cheering for Jacob and his teammates and befriending the other parents and fans. This weekend after he proudly donned his own uniform, he tracked down those parents he’d shared the stands with to show them just how far he’d come. “I’m on the Yankees now. I’m # 8. We played the A’s, and it was a tie. It was my first game ever, and I had my first team snacks ever, Oreos and a cheesestick, and also a water.” Then he’d turn around so they could see he had his name on his jersey.

Have you ever watched 5-year-olds play a game of baseball? There are about 10 adults on the field, most tasked with keeping the kids standing up, facing the right direction, and in the case of opening day, off of the bounce house. The coach pitches, or perhaps more accurately, throws the ball at the bat that’s roughly the same size as the batter. The second the ball is hit, every kid in the field, which sometimes includes the base runners, heads for it. Sometimes there’s tackling, sometimes crying. This day, Zach played third where he dutifully stood, foot on the bag, glove in the air, ready to make the out. As it turns out, 5-year-olds don’t throw to third to make the out.

Jake’s team played a couple of hours later, where by comparison, it looked like the actual Cardinals were playing the actual Rangers.

For the three months leading up to opening day, Zach would ask me if I could bring music to the field –  a soundtrack for his debut. You see, we play that fun car game where you pick out what song you would like to hear if you got the chance for an at-bat in the majors; and that other fun car game, where you play “Uprising” by Muse (which next to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is the world’s greatest batting/walk-up song) and then in your best stadium announcer voice, introduce the Giants batters one at a time, “Noooooow batting…..Cody Ross!,” and then the next person says “Nooooooow batting…Pablo Sandoval!” You know…that game. So naturally, Zach assumed, he would also be entitled to tunes that would make him hit a grand slam and get his devoted fans on their feet.

I’d say, “Zach, I wish I could buddy, but I can’t bring music to your game, as awesome as that would be.” But there on Opening Day, at Zach’s first game…was a DJ. Sure, the guy was most likely assigned to provide a soundtrack for all the festivities – the kids punching each other in the bounce houses, or having their faces painted with fairy wings and fake scars. But along with his first baseball snacks and first baseball parade, Zach got his walk-up music for his first official at-bat. I don’t even think he cared that it was Lynyrd Skynyrd.

huddle

The other night, I went to pick Jake up from his football practice. I was so very ready to go home. It had been a long day of work; no homework had been completed; dinner had not been eaten; and Zach was hell bent on scaling the one part of the park’s play structure that looked so dangerous, it had to be an illegal engineering mistake. But alas, practice was not over. Jake and his buddies were now huddled around in their team meeting, looking very worn out and very serious. Like tiny little SWAT teamers doing a recap of some big operation.

Assured that Jake is currently where he is supposed to be, huddling with the other SWAT teamers, I shift my focus to Zach who’s back on the scary and forbidden play thing, only now while also pointing at his own eye with a stick. That’s when I hear a very familiar voice call out… “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOM!”

I look over, and there is my eldest, non-discreetly summoning me from the middle of his meeting. He sees that he has my attention, and hits me with his emergency. “What’s for dinner!?!?”

Granted, he does not have a lot of experience being in meetings. But I give him the abbreviated version of my laser eyes, and the universal hand signal for “turn around and listen to your coach, focus, and by the way, I have NO idea what is for dinner.”

Other than “how did I get out of your tummy?,” “what’s for dinner?” is probably my least favorite question. I know the answer about 25% of the time. Within that 25%– noodles, chicken nuggets, pizza, Subway and tacos really are the only place where there is any overlap of excitement from both boys, which comes to about 10%. I’ve already exceeded my math aptitude here, but that leaves a lot of stink faces, and “I don’t like that” and “can we please have macaroni & cheese or Subway or tacos or noodles?”

Sure, I’m frustrated and kinda harried and cranky looking on the outside, not to mention slightly distracted by a 5-year-old daredevil with a stick, but at the same time, a little relieved on the inside. Jake’s still 10, not on the SWAT team, and him knowing what’s for dinner currently trumps all of his other worldly concerns.

The disturbing  thing about watching major league sports is how many of these guys look like little boys. I mistook an Atlanta Braves pitcher and a pinch runner for bat boys, and I have a hard time believing that the Giants’ beloved Buster Posey has started shaving yet. The old men in the sport are a couple of years younger than John and I. Please notice, I include John in this to keep me from feeling so alone out here in the mid-thirties.

hero abatement

A couple of weeks ago, John came into our room and said, “It looks like the MLB threw up on our son.” All I heard at first was “throw up” and “son,” and started to launch into vomit abatement mode.  

“No the MLB threw up on him,” (he emphasized like it’s actually a thing that happens)… “Mets Hat. A’s shirt, Rockies shorts.”

“On purpose?”

“Pretty sure.”

As of last month, Jake’s 10. He’s all limbs, freckles and Justin Bieber hair. He has very sophisticated culinary preferences, and tosses the kids’ coloring menu aside to peer over my shoulder at the grown up menu. When he finishes a meal, he unashamedly eyes my plate, so now I eat faster. He can carry on an intelligent conversation with adults, is good with the follow-up questions, and has amazing recall with biographical & historical factoids. I call him my cub reporter, and he rolls his eyes.

I see what a tween is now – stuck there between little kid and teenager. I can see it in his eyes, “I want to cuddle with you, but I don’t want you to think I want to cuddle with you.” He measures himself against me, waiting for the day he can look me in the eye. I remind him that even when he is taller than me, I will still in fact, be the boss of him.

He rises with or before the sun to turn on the MLB network to check scores and amazing catches and homeruns he missed while he was sleeping. He can rattle off stats I don’t understand, and who’s going on, or coming off the DLs across American and National Leagues.

He understands now, how hard it is to become a professional baseball player, so has been considering his options: sports analyst, sports agent, sports doctor.

I’m well aware that there are countless little kids out there who love baseball and basketball and football. But the one who lives under my roof has hit a rough patch lately with his sports heroes.

The first team he fell in love with was the USC Trojans. Poor kid didn’t have a choice in the matter. His father and I are both Trojans and football is just what you do when you go to USC.  Saturday games are still a major event at our house, and another excuse for hot wings and clam dip. When John was in seminary, before the advent of the smart phone, he’d excuse himself from mandatory Saturday seminary activities to stand in the hall yelling commands to some robot on the other end of his gigantic cell phone. You could call a number and get scores! Wow! It was all very futuristic and sophisticated and his classmates still remind him of his voice booming through the hall trying to get the robot to understand his needs. “FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL SCORES! COLLEGE FOOTBALL! USC FOOTBALL SCORES!”

Jacob had a Reggie Bush doll that has now been passed to his little brother, a sports nut in his own right (and who this year re-named St. Patrick’s Day “Dan Patrick Day” and had a fever-induced hallucination starring Kevin Garnett). The hands fell off the doll, Lil Reggie, about 4 years ago. Once in a while I’ll come across one of the hands in a toy box, and it’s really quite disconcerting. Almost as creepy as stretching out on the couch only to have Lil Reggie peeking at you from behind a pillow.

We live near Cal which means we are reminded frequently of USC’s recent fall from glory, or as we think of it, push from glory by the NCAA, based on the unsavory actions of the USC athletic staff, and (maybe not) Reggie Bush.

His next loves were the Giants and Barry Bonds. I didn’t know another little kid who was rooting for Barry Bonds more than Jake. He’d pretend to be Barry Bonds whenever he picked up a bat and would ask daily if there were new homers. Then we had to start talking about steroids and asterisks…with our 1st grader. We forbade him from walking away from us in the store, talking back to his mother, and taking steroids.

There was a point where we actually tried to refocus his attention on good guys. Hard working family men. You know, like Tiger Woods. Last holiday season was tricky, trying to steer away from sports news, regular news, entertainment news, newspapers, anything on the radio, or any conversations with other humans. We’d already had the steroid talk. I wasn’t ready to explain mistresses, bottle service or sex rehab.

He’d already seen Michael Phelps & Tim Lincecum each get caught with pot. Big Ben goes to jail for being gross. LeBron draws the ire of a nation with his one-man money show.

John & Jake were watching ESPN a few weeks ago when the the Lance Armstrong doping allegations story popped up. John said the look in Jake’s eyes was one of hurt and betrayal. “Nooo. Not Lance Armstrong!” before flopping back with the kind of frustration and defeat that should be reserved only for mothers. I’m afraid in 5 years, he’ll  look back on that moment as the one where he decided that heroes might be a waste of time.

Since then, two players from his other favorite team, the Mets, are in the news, Johan Santana has paternity drama, and Francisco Rodriguez, K-Rod, gets arrested for being in a super-classy fight with his father-in-law. We have about 100 pictures of K-Rod taken from 10 feet away, while Jake sat starry eyed watching him warm up. I’ve noticed in the last couple of days, Jake’s been absentmindedly flipping through these stories, on his way to the Disney channel.

I think it would have been easier if the MLB had just actually thrown up on him.

August 24, 2012: For his 12th birthday, the only thing Jacob wanted was a t-shirt with the number of his new favorite Giant, Melky Cabrera. Days later, Cabrera was slapped with a 50 game suspension for doping. We’ve delicately discussed the Penn State football program over the past months, and not so delicately, the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. When I saw today’s Lance Armstrong news, I remembered this post I originally published almost exactly two years ago. Things change, but not really. And I really wonder how a family can collectively find a new interest – like bird watching or stamp collecting.