The End of an Era

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May 29, 2018.  I’ve known this day was coming for me since August of 2006, when my Little League coaching journey began.  That month, my elder son Max (now a high school Junior) first picked up his glove in service of a San Francisco Little League team — the Giants, no less — as a kindergartner.  Team names are picked at random each season by coaches out of a hat (an envelope, really). That first season, we had plucked the name of our hometown San Francisco Giants — the first and last time the folded up piece of paper would have those particular words scrawled on it.  An auspicious beginning to a memorable coaching career.

Over the years I would coach the Grizzlies, Cubs, White Sox, Angels (twice), Red Sox, A’s (thrice), Indians, Mariners, and a couple more I cannot currently bring to mind.  Perhaps because I coached each of my sons throughout this adventure, I was keenly aware, from the very beginning, that each practice and each game meant that I would have one less practice, one less game, to savor before it all came to a crashing halt on a baseball diamond in the future. A silent clock in my head, counting down. In 12 years from now, then 10 years, then 5, then 2, then just one more, than just a matter of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, then down to a final at-bat, then down to just one last out.  I saw the end coming the whole way. 

And the end made its long-awaited appearance last night. May 29, 2018. Our San Francisco Little League Majors A’s huddled in the left field grass at Tepper Field one last time. My bloodstream was still flooded with bitter feelings from our sudden loss just minutes ago. The sensation of a dozen (somewhat begrudging, if I’m being totally honest) high-fives with the opposing team’s players still buzzed a bit in the palms of my hands.  Now, I silently regretted my deliberate decision not to pencil out an end-of-the-season speech beforehand.  I took several deep breaths in an attempt to gather my thoughts, to ensure that I was going to say the “right” things, rather than rail about missed practices, ground balls slithering through legs, and strike threes taken. And though I was painfully aware that this moment marked the end of an era for me, I tried not to peer down into that new, empty void.  Tried to focus on the boys.   

This is not supposed to be about me, you see. It is supposed to be about them. Sure, I had just coached my final game.  With the second of my sons (and I have but two).  “Dad” is my favorite word in the English language.  “Coach” had always run a close second, but  pulled up lame, as I knew it would, falling behind and off in the distance and suddenly now about to be gone forever. But not until after I try to muster up just one final (and unscripted, regrettably, again) speech on soiled knee in the outfield grass.  So I need to get this right. 

Our season had begun, as all of them do, with promise. A chance to forge a scattered and disconnected group of 11 and 12 year-olds into a cohesive team, applying lessons learned over each of the previous dozen seasons. Just last year, my team (the Mariners) won the regular season, and narrowly missed winning the playoffs, too. Arguably, our loss in the League Championship can be attributed to the overzealous coach bouncing in the third base coaches box.  That would be me. I foolishly windmilled a slow-footed runner around the third base bag, and destined him to a waiting tag at home plate.  Game over.  I expect that he has managed to forget that moment, with the youthful gift of jelly-headed resilience.  I have not been so lucky, replaying that scene over and over again in my own jelly-head. 

With some disappointment, I recognized at the start of this season that a miracle would be required for these A’s to repeat the on-field success of their predecessors, the Mariners. Sweet kids, all of them, but also offering up new challenges.  I struggled to resist my inner Captain Bligh each time players showed up at practice or even a game, invariably late, and without his hat, his cleats, his glove, his bat, his belt.  My assistant coach and good friend John routinely suffered through sunburns on his forehead, having generously, once again, “donated” his own cap to one of our forgetful A’s.  Over the course of the season, we had roughly 30 practices.  Repetition is key, I’ve learned.  And then, more repetition.  But all the sessions I had dutifully reserved, scheduled, planned for, and schlepped bags and buckets and bats and balls to over my shoulders? I believe we only had one practice at which our entire squad was present, and that may have been our very first, remind me what’s your name again? practice of the year.  

Other than near-constant, grumbling emails from me to our players’ parents, this meant that we coaches were simply never able to pontificate on all the subtleties and vagaries and nuances of the game of baseball to the entire team at once.  I never signaled a “bunt” sign during a game.  We never got around to that. We relied on only one “first and third” play when we were in the field, left to ignore the other half-dozen options given currency in every other Little League Majors season I’d coached. We never got around to that. Our most experienced pitcher — who threw the ball harder than anyone I’d ever seen in Little League — was an especially busy lad, such that I never found a meaningful opportunity at practice to iron out a kink in his swing and a rush in his pitching delivery.  We never got around to that, either.  

And so I knew, as early in March, that this would be a season of triage.  Of rushed instructions delivered during the game while sitting on my bucket of balls poised at the corner of the dugout.  Flashing the pitch sign between my legs to our catcher, while reminding him, “Big target! Stick it! Squeeze it!” Then glancing at my players in the field, assessing their body language. Beseeching our corner outfielders (who often hadn’t seen real action for several innings), “Sprint in and out and in and out and in and out, every time!” (It is a tall order, backing up potential pickoff throws from the catcher to the third baseman or first baseman.) Then cajoling our infielders, “Move your feet! Expect ball! Coming to you!” And finally sneaking in one last piece of encouragement to our pitcher, “Take a breath. See it before you throw it. Chest to knee. You got this.” I felt a near-constant, burning need to stuff twelve years of coaching instruction into a single year, into every single game, hobbled as we were from scant practice time together and from forgotten hats and gloves and bats and sunscreen and snacks and water bottles and belts. I never worked so hard on a Little League team. After games, I would pour myself into the front seat of my car and just sit there for a minute or two, trying to regain the energy required to drive back home over the Bay Bridge. 

If I could do it all over again, I wonder, do all of the orders and instructions and pitch-calling really matter? Would I, would we, have been better off had I chosen instead to sit on my hands in the dugout all season, with a smile on my face, simply letting whatever will happen, happen? I don’t know.  I suspect I would have blown out my eustachian tubes trying to hold back all the “helpful” instructions banging around in my head.  But still, I don’t know. 

To my credit (I hope), I generally tried to counterbalance the in-game micromanagement tendencies with more emotionally intelligent commentaries delivered in the outfield after each our games. More often than not, I would apologize for something I did or didn’t do during the game.  Said or didn’t say, in the heat of the moment. The players likely suffered whiplash from this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine, but I think any honest youth coach understands and struggles with this same push-pull dynamic of which I speak.  During a game, I have no fewer than 8 people inside my head shouting orders, or attempting to sooth the savage beast, or thinking make sure you smile so the parents don’t think you are a complete jerk and your players don’t fear you, or why didn’t you practice bunting more, you should have practiced bunting more this would have been a great time for a bunt. It is an emotional whirlwind, immediately followed by (ideally) a much calmer discussion about life lessons and such in the outfield grass.

And this whipsawed dynamic was on full display last night.   

We had managed to hang tight with a team that won, handily, the regular season.  Our previous encounter with the juggernaut Red Sox found the A’s on the unpleasant end of a 12-4 trouncing.  And yet, at the top of the 5th inning, here we were in a tie game, knotted at 3 runs apiece. I began entertaining visions of these A’s miraculously finding themselves playing for the League Championship four days hence.  In my 3 previous Majors seasons, two of those teams played in the championship game.  Last year we nearly won it. Why not these A’s? Why shouldn’t fate smile upon me, at long last — after 12 years — and give me a League Championship? Don’t I deserve it? 

While I fantasized about dog piles and beaming parents and shiny trophies coming my way on Saturday, I lost my full concentration on the field in that moment.  Loosed just a bit my grip on the action in front of me.  Our speedy outfielder drew a two-out walk, advancing the self-glorifying narrative building in my head, and now the meat of our order jogged up to the plate. Things were looking good.

But while standing in the third base coaches box, with my head full of delusions of grandeur, I failed to notice a devilish glint in our speedy outfielder’s eyes.  I had been preaching aggressive base running all season (to the detriment of other bedrock rules dealing with the sanctity of runs when our team is a couple runs behind, for example).  And so, inspired by his coach’s fiery pre-game rhetoric, our outfielder suddenly careened around first base in a courageous but ill-advised attempt to stretch his walk into an extra base. He almost made it, too.  But the throw and tag were true. The home plate umpire’s emphatic thumb and fist-punch ended our season.  

And I knew, right away, exactly what had happened.  Despite all these years, I had neglected the central truth:  It is not about me.  It is about them.  

And so, only minutes later, kneeling in the outfield grass one last time, I tried to look within and find that proper perspective. To come up with a valedictory speech rather than a eulogy.  To leave the boys with something poignant but not saccharine. So that they would remember the right stuff, not the wrong stuff.  To ensure that my last post-game words as a coach would be meaningful.  I told them I was proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves.  Every one of them, proud of themselves.  And of each other.  I told one of our players — whom I have coached for as long as I have coached my son Everett — that I didn’t care how many balls went under his legs. That knowing what I know now, right now, I remain grateful to have coached him all these years, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  And then I looked into his eyes and told him that I loved him. (This line I rushed through, because I wanted to get it out before my increasingly choked-up throat cut me off at the pass.) I scanned the others’ faces, and told them to look at each other in our semi-circle.  We live in different parts of the city, we look different from each other, our families came from different parts of the world. But sitting here right now, what you guys have been through together, those differences don’t matter, do they?  Never forget the fun times you had together and how much you learned together. Savor the good stuff. 

I told them that the winning and losing stuff seems really important right now, I know, but it isn’t.  It’s only baseball.  Only a game.  And that each muffed ground ball, or strike out, or whatever, is another chance to see what you’re made of.  To get back up.  To rise to the challenge.  That losing this game, and losing all the games we lost this season, is actually a good thing.  Because down the road when you have girlfriends or boyfriends who tell you one day they no longer want to be together with you, maybe you will have felt that pain before, on a baseball diamond, and maybe you will remember that you can go on.  That you will be OK.  You will fail tests, and suffer disappointments, and lose jobs. People you care about will get sick.  But you have been there before. You have been given the opportunity to play this game and make all kinds of mistakes and learn from them. Grow from them.  Push yourselves up off the floor.  At least try to get up, and keep trying to get up. 

It’s a lifelong journey, I think to myself as they boys scramble to their feet, none of them, thankfully, even remotely aware of the enormous loss I feel in my own belly.  I am still making mistakes, I acknowledge.  And gritting my teeth to remind myself each time that each mistake is an opportunity, not a failure.  A challenge, not a loss.  And while my Little League coaching career has reached it conclusion, as I always knew it would, I am trying to take my own outfield advice. To remember and savor the experience.  To appreciate that it happened. To maybe learn from it, rather than get stuck on this “end of an era” thing.  It is all a work in progress. But I am trying.  And that is enough for now. 

Thanks for reading.  And a heartfelt thank you and tip of the cap to the 2018 San Francisco Little League Majors A’s (and to all the other teams of girls and boys I’ve had the privilege of coaching). 

 

Go Syraduke Orangebluedevilmen (Part 2)

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Well hello there, milestone.  How you been, life signpost?

Duke and Syracuse University square off tonight in a March Madness’ Sweet Sixteen matchup. I last wrote about this spine-tingling college hoops rivalry a little over 4 years ago.  At the time, I was raw and reeling from my grandmother’s sudden death, and yet newly-inspired, too, to create this here blog and start documenting my day-to-day.  Trying to emulate my grandmother’s inexhaustible good humor and optimism.  I called it a “quixotic quest for the bright side.” At the time, my sons were 12 and 8 years old, in people years.  Our dog was 1, also in people years.  My wife and I were, ehm, younger, too.

That was four years and a couple hundred Lemonade Chronicles blog posts ago. So the game got me thinking: What has happened in my life since then? Well, on the negative side (and it remains difficult not to tackle this end of the ledger first), my family and I have lost loved ones and dear friends. Some older and therefore perhaps not entirely surprising.  Some far younger, and therefore entirely surprising.  Neither category seems fair, of course.  And while these people are gone, it’s safe to say we think about them all, just about every day.  Still, these heartbreaking losses have served as rallying calls for my tribes: My college buddies, my wife’s family.  We have grown tighter and more appreciative of one another as a result.  Doesn’t make it hurt any less, I suppose, but it is something to grab onto while staring at the ceiling at 2 in the morning.  Or while stumbling over an old Facebook photo depicting a smiling face that smiles no more.

My kids have gotten older.  One has moved away, willingly, to a boarding school on the east coast.  Max is trudging through his 4th Nor’easter at the moment, as I type on my MacBook Air sitting in our San Francisco backyard, pant legs rolled up since it’s a little warm in the sun. Our younger son Everett is in 6th grade and none-too-happy about the fact that the white hot parental spotlight shines only in his direction. At least it seems that way to him. And my wife and I probably want to perpetuate this myth, because Everett is the sneaky one.

I’ve continued to coach Little League teams for as long as my sons’ birth certificates allow. I’m in my last season right now, in fact.  The number of times I’ll get to remind a player to tie his shoes or to show me where her baby tooth recently fell out? Dwindling. Honestly, this coaching thing has been going on so long (13 or 14 years now), I verge on panic when contemplating its sudden absence from my identity.  At times, I find myself fantasizing about returning to the pitching mound someday to coach my grandchildren’s Little League teams.  This gives you an idea of how bent I am about this phase of my life coming to an abrupt halt in a couple months.

I’ve been writing a book inspired in-part by my Lemonade Chronicles blog.  I wrote a 500+ paged manuscript, covering 4 years, then cut it down to 8 months, in the process realizing that a health scare had played a more prominent role in my psyche than I knew.  The manuscript is currently in the hands of a half-dozen “beta readers” from whom I fear I will learn that my book is actually awful.  Even if they like it and their constructive criticism doesn’t leave me dry-heaving, there is still the matter of finding a literary agent, publishing house, and readers willing to pay to read what I write. Wish me luck.

Since my first Duke-SU post, I have worked at three startups, none of which left me with a feeling of doing something meaningful.  Which probably explains, in part, why I have taken the past year off to focus on writing this book.  The book is now “written” — or at least the hard part of putting something together that lasts 254 pages and has pretty pictures such that I can hand it to someone with sort of a straight face.  So suddenly, the gobs of time each day spent pulling my hair out and shuffling around hundreds of pages of draft writing lies empty.  So I find myself, tentatively, exploring the possibility of a new adventure. Something ideally complementing this dream of mine to be a guy who regularly writes and publishes books that people want to read, and maybe goes to neat little bookstores all over the place to meet and talk with those people.

A large part of my family has, rather surprisingly, left Syracuse altogether.  My sister, mother and step-father, all gone. Living in North Carolina. A good example of how things you assume will last forever, well, they usually don’t. I have been trying to figure out how to go to North Carolina to visit, and while I have been doing so, my nephews are getting older in their Instagram photos. I have yet to step foot in my mother’s year-old house, to say nothing of the home my sister and brother in-law have lived in for several years now.  I tell myself that I am busy with book writing, and being a husband and a dad, and coaching Little League, and walking the dog. But perhaps I am simply not a very good son or big brother.

Both may be true.  Take tonight:  As an example of how far things have come, I actually will miss watching this milestone college hoops game.  I won’t be watching it live in a bar downtown with a couple college buddies, backslapping each other and yelling.  I won’t be the object of some purportedly good-natured text taunting from my far-flung, Syracuse born-and-bred, family members. I won’t be giggling over funny texts shared among a sizable group of other college buddies, each live-texting the game with relevant comments and with totally irrelevant comments of the sort I dare not publish here (or anywhere for that matter).  In fact, I will take the extreme step of shutting down my iPhone and burying it in a backpack until later this evening.  Or perhaps until tomorrow morning.  Because I won’t see this game until my rendezvous with TiVo ’round about 9pm tonight.

Instead, I’ll be standing in the third base coaches box, cheering on my Little League team’s players.  It’s not even a real game; just a hastily-arranged scrimmage.  Earlier today, I contemplated skipping the scrimmage myself in favor of the yelling and backslapping and harried texting. For about 15 minutes.  But then I thought about my Little Leaguers, down in the mouth from their 3rd consecutive rained-out game. And I knew where I belonged: On the field with my gaggle of 11- and 12-year olds, shoelaces untied and baby teeth still rooted. The hoops game can wait.

Thanks for reading.

 

My Final Season (and So It Begins….)

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This is what Opening Day looks like in San Francisco.  Technically not “Opening Day.” That event and its annual parade was actually cancelled a weekend ago. The rainy conditions introduced the unpleasant prospect of baseball-cleated pre-teens sliding around in the payload of rented pickup trucks like a pile of slippery mackerel.  This would have been my last San Francisco Little League Opening Day Parade, since my younger son will graduate out at the end of the current season.  I’ll get over it, but I would have liked just one more trip around the block with a pile of fish. 

Even after 12 or 13 years of these rides, I can almost remember each.  When loaded with a dozen 50-pound first-graders, space comes at a premium back there for coaches who haven’t seen first grade and 50 pounds since 1975. Sixth-graders now, the players on my Majors A’s team this year have doubled in size from their first-grade selves. We coaches have, maybe, added a few pounds here and there as well. Sitting in the open air on the bump of a metal wheel well, pinching one’s knees together as the driver careens around the Marina, the players rhythmically banging their fists on the quarter panels, sounds, objectively speaking, undesirable. But I would have liked to take one more spin around the neighborhood, my own hand stinging at the end of it (it’s not just the kids that do the banging). 

Thankfully, lightning and sneakers losing purchase and liability did not come into play for our team’s actual first game, which transpired this past weekend.  This is not to say that my boys (it’s only boys this season) pranced around in the bluebird skies, blazing sunshine, and fresh cut grass from my youth. Nope. I suspect our field had recently played host to a lacrosse game or rugby match or Friday evening adult softball game featuring a keg drained down in the visitor’s dugout. The field has seen better days. I can’t blame the outfield, pockmarked with ankle-twisting gopher holes, on those other folks, though.  That’s just nature.  The kids have been navigating those vermin-built land mines for so long, we don’t even bother mentioning this hazard to our right fielders anymore. 

Gopher holes? What gopher holes?  

The unusually heavy fog added an interesting variable to the mix. The Golden Gate Bridge’s fog horn moaned the entire night before our game.  The late evening news weatherman, his opinion seconded by the opposing team’s head coach, said it would be thick.  He was right.  At 7:15am on Saturday morning, the fog bank operated as a de facto outfield fence.  If any player was able to jack one out into the fog, literally hitting the ball out of sight, I suspect the home plate umpire would happily circle his index finger in the air.  That would be a very cool sight, and I wouldn’t care whether our team did it, or their team did. 

Fog? What fog?

Given the paucity of playable fields within the 7 mile by 7 mile footprint of San Francisco proper, the League struggles mightily to accommodate the 1,000+ rabid little leaguers with crooked caps and untied shoelaces. Hence our 8am game on Saturday.  My team’s players, presumably still bleary-eyed from an all-night Fortnight video game bender, drifted onto the field one and two and three at-a-time; eventually comprising a full quorum by the time the umpire requested my hand-written lineup. Our pre-game drills turned just-unwrapped official league baseballs into the heavy dirty gummy dun spheres on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I whack a brand-spanking new ball with my fungo bat out into the outfield, someone (hopefully, eventually, corrals it), and throws back to me an unrecognizeable ball covered in mud as though it had time-traveled (backwards or forwards, I’m not sure which).  But none of the players and none of the coaches complained about the mud balls.   

Mud balls? What mud balls?

As it turns out, we got our butts kicked on Saturday morning.  Wasn’t much of a contest, really. Sure, we talked about it after the game.  A little bit. The strikeouts and botched plays and missed steal signs and such.  But that stuff hardly mattered as we all knelt in the still-wet grass surrounded by the still-lingering fog. I glanced around this semi-circle of boys, ready smiles on their faces, some giggling and poking at each other, no hints of dejection or disappointment over why didn’t I swing at that third strike. In that moment, I thought to myself, “getting our butts kicked never felt so good.” 

This is my last season, and I’ve resolved to savor every moment of it.  So bring on the rain and fog and gophers and mud balls.   

48% Dread, 52% Magic

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I can’t stop staring at this photograph, though it fairly twists up my insides. Despite the vaguely unpleasant mix of light-headedness and fluttering heartbeats triggered by the rich memories conjured up, I am transfixed. Mesmerized. I’m staring into my own eyes spanning a yawning gap of 36 or 37 years.  One one end, looking into an exhilaratingly unknown future, with absolutely zero idea of what may come. Perhaps wondering whether my older self will have figured things out somewhere down the line. On the other end, looking backwards in time, desperate to catch a glimpse of that deer-in-the-headlights boy’s thoughts, the same age then as my younger son is now, give or take.  

If we were to meet today,  this boy and I, would he feel pride, or disappointment, in the life he and I have lived?

I honestly don’t know.

I stumbled on this photograph of a photograph in the midst of what has become an annual event marked by melancholy and reminiscing. My maternal grandmother passed away four years ago yesterday — a seismic event still felt palpably by my mother’s side of the family.  Still felt by me.  Glutton for punishment that I apparently am, I have not afforded myself the opportunity to let my grandmother’s death clear my system.  Rather, I have been doggedly blogging around and within its periphery beginning a few days after she died.  And for the past year, I have been pounding a book intended to honor her into the keys of my MacBook’s keypad. Running so many laps around Memory Lane that I have lost count.  

The photo above, plucked from my mother’s shoebox of pictures in the wake of my grandmother’s  death, owns a permanent address on Memory Lane. I have passed it repeatedly, rubbernecking at a sprint every time. The boy with the tongue and the boy with the dread, Pete and Teddy, respectively, are still with me.  Pete lives in Calistoga with his family, and thankfully emerged from those recent wine country fires in one piece. Teddy lives in Chicago, newly married on a gorgeous Florida beach, to a woman who sees as much in him as I always have.  Pete’s comical expression is pretty typical for that time period; actually, pretty typical for any time period.  Funny enough, almost, to make me forgive him for smashing my borrowed electric guitar at a college lip synch competition of his.

The purple tongue is admittedly vexing, because I can assure you that my parents stocked nothing in our kitchen cupboards capable of staining anyone’s tongue that particular color.  Or any color, for that matter. Powdered milk and oatmeal molasses cookies and buckwheat pancakes (“thick-ass buckwheat flapjacks,” as Pete reminds me) don’t leave that kind of mark. I’d put my money on a contraband grape lollipop snuck into 115 Robineau Road amidst the chaos of my little birthday party.  I suspect Pete knows precisely how many licks it takes to get to the center of that cartoon owl’s Tootsie Pop

In Teddy’s face, I sense a certain wariness.  A concern about what might happen next.  At the time, he was working his way through the complicated dynamics of his parents’ divorce, and I recall that this took a toll on his emotional well-being.  On the other hand, Teddy knew how emphatic my parents — particularly my father — were about sugar and artificial coloring and health foods and such.  His flat expression is equally likely to have been inspired by a fear of my father’s anticipated reaction to Pete’s Purple Tongue. Maybe my dad would insist on “entertaining” us boys in the backyard with yet another episode of breaking bricks with his bare fist. Thrilling to me; terrifying to my buddies, who always read into the brick-breaking some sort of message to them.  In this case, maybe “This is what will happen to the next friend of Keir’s who brings a Tootsie Pop into my house — CRAAAAAACKKK!”  It’s possible 12 year-old Teddy foresaw this scene, as I suggested in a text I sent to 49 year-old Ted this morning along with the photo.  He responded, “My formative years consisted of 48% dread. My apologies for the facial expression.” 

No apologies necessary, my man. That still leaves 52% for the magic part.

My 12 year-old self may or may not agree, but by this point, I might argue that a life made of 52% magic and 48% dread is a life well-lived. 

Thanks for reading. 

Shaken, Not Stirred

The tables have turned.

Yesterday morning saw me begrudgingly play the role of my wife’s stiff-legged running partner. Plucked from bed by the ankles in mid-slumber. Pressured to leave the cozy confines of our Queen-sized bed in order to shuffle in the chilly rain for 40 dark minutes.

Today, however, I was the heel grabber, not the heel grabbee. Grabbed the bull by the horns, you might say. And somehow, like yesterday, when our roles were reversed, I’m reasonably confident that things worked out well.

Before kids (at the turn of the century), Hilary and I were regular devotees of Bikram Yoga. Eighteen years ago, we would eagerly sweat our way through 26 “poses” intended to pretzel ones limbs in a stifling room, with an ambient air temperature not far removed from our toaster oven’s “broil” setting. It sounds awful, and it is actually worse than it sounds. At least until you settle in and get yourself accustomed to the overheated misery over the course of many sessions. One of my fondest memories of my wife involves witnessing her standing in “Balancing Stick” pose with her 9 month-old pregnant belly protruding proudly (the human we would later meet, called “Max,” was in there somewhere). She looked like a freakin’ warrior, and I was in awe. (As I said just yesterday, she is tough.)

But in the ensuing years, two kids and a mortgage and law firms and start ups and a puppy and slowed metabolisms and pre-arthritic toe knuckles and friends and loved ones coming and going and all of the rest of normal life conspired to keep Hil and me out of the yoga studio.

I missed it.

So this New Year, with some newfound free time due to one child being away at boarding school, I resolved to take a crack at revisiting this small piece of our former lives. Unbeknownst to Hilary, I signed us up for a month of Bikram. I handed her the gift certificate on Christmas Morning, feeling very proud of myself. At the time, we were far away from home with a gaggle of family, so I didn’t think to loop back around afterwards to confirm that my gift was as well-received as it was well-intentioned. I simply assumed that, once again, the “World’s Best Husband” statuette would stand firmly on my bedroom bureau for yet another year. Sigh.

This morning marked the appointed Bikram Day One. I awoke fired up. I assumed we were both fired up. Then I noticed immediately that my enthusiasm was mine alone. Out of the blue, Hilary started giving currency to a litany of (objectively reasonable) excuses. I know about excuses. She was trying to weasel out of Bikram, I realized.

But there would be no weaseling.

Yes, our 12 year-old would be home alone for nearly three hours. Yes, this likely violates one or more criminal statutes regarding child neglect. Yes, our dog is whimpering from some inexplicable, circular chunk mysteriously missing from her hindquarters since yesterday. Yes, it is possible that one explanation for the Silver Dollar Chunk was inattentive driveway driving on my part. Yes, we are at least 16 years older than the last time we twisted ourselves up into sweaty balls among two dozen strangers.

Still, all of this paled in comparison to the angelic vision of my 103-degree wife in Full Locust Pose that I hoped to rekindle. So, against the better judgment of perhaps anyone not named “Keir,” I insisted that we press on.

And off we went.

It was hot. It was hard. My bouts of dizziness verged on passing out more than once. I caught my own eyes unintentionally cross-eyed in the mirror a half-dozen times. But I did manage to sneak a quick glimpse or two at Hilary; spied her face set with intensity and mettle, completely oblivious to my voyeurism. I saw my warrior again. Maybe she saw her warrior too.

Perhaps a better husband would have cut his wife some slack. Let her off the hook this morning. For sure, we will both be terribly sore along our rib cages and such for several days. And our 12 year-old came very close to dialing up Child Services during our absence, assuaged only when we agreed to make him syrupy pancakes for breakfast. And our dog ended up with an unscheduled vet appointment. There she earned an unwanted new accoutrement reminiscent of an adult beverage at cocktail hour (see above photo; see above blog title).

Nevertheless, well worth it, in my view. To travel back in time nearly two decades, recapturing at least a sliver of our younger selves. And maybe setting in motion something old yet new that we can both enjoy together once or twice a week now in the New Year, and perhaps beyond. On the other hand, I may have to wait another 16 years to see my warrior again. I suppose I’m good with either scenario.

Thanks for reading.

It’s Rainin’ Men!

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Hallelujah!

My arguably overly-competitive wife fairly dragged me out of bed this morning by my heels. Insisting I make good on my half-hearted, casually-issued “promise” last night to the effect that I would run with her in the morning. 

I generally love the idea of running with my wife.   I really do. Just the thought of the two of us gallivanting with full lungs and full hearts, holding hands while prancing along Crissy Field, brings a smile to my face.  Look at us! Soulmates! Look at me! World’s Greatest Husband! 

The reality of these runs tends to be quite different.

Take this morning: While admittedly not on par with the Bomb Cyclone, the weather was uninviting. Still dark, pouring rain in big fat drops that the Super Doppler failed to detect and report on a quick check of our iPhone weather apps.   The dog obsessively walked circles in the street, clearly struggling to muster the courage to execute her morning constitution in the midst of this downpour.  So Hilary and I stood witness, helpless and slump-shouldered, getting soaked to the bone before the run had even officially begun. 

Eventually we begin. And with the rain and cold and dark and headlamps and lengthy pooping routine and failure to stretch beforehand, I note that my lower back is knotted up like a fist as we cross Marina Boulevard. I commence with shuffling, reluctantly, in the general direction of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But this is not the worst part. The worst part, I know, is that my own personal drama is about to be magnified exponentially.

Typically, amidst early morning drudgery such as this, my gender is embarrassingly underrepresented.  Don’t get me wrong. There are many males of varying ages who populate my daily existence with myriad admirable qualities and aplomb.  (Exhibit A: The, um, heroic gents photographed above.) Nevertheless, I have long since made peace with my own inferiority, and that of all men, when it comes to the Gumption Department.  Any man who has witnessed a woman giving birth knows what I’m talking about. No man would willingly give birth once, let alone more than once.  Sixteen years after my firstborn’s birth, and I still can’t fathom how or why Hilary agreed to go through that experience twice. 

So this morning, I fully expect that all the dudes will still be asleep. Leaving the suffering of soaking wet, early morning runs to the tougher gender. And Hilary will amplify my shame by uttering a barely discernible “mmhmm” every time we cross paths with yet another woman gamely gritting her teeth through these lousy conditions. Yep, this run is gonna suck, pretty much all the way around. 

Except for some reason, this morning was different. My own physical discomfort never really resolved. But I was able to find distraction through engaging my wife in quantifying this Battle of the Sexes.  Counting up the number of men running compared to the number of women doing the same. Audibly as each human passed us in the opposite direction, completely oblivious to their critical role in my household’s bragging rights.

And of course, as the Battle unexpectedly jockeyed back and forth in the 10-10 range nearing our run’s turnaround point, Hilary and I began splitting hairs. Does a walker count? How about a walker who was apparently or soon will become, a runner? As in, “those are definitely running clothes, so she must be just warming down, she counts!” Are we allowed to interfere with fate by patting a startled walker on the butt in an effort to inspire the runner within, thereby adding another notch to our gender’s count?  

In the end, much to my surprise (and that of my far tougher wife), the men won in a relative landslide, 17 to 12.  It wasn’t even close, as it turns out. I haven’t the foggiest idea how this happened. But I do know that I will spend the weekend beating my chest about the resiliency of my fellow men, maybe this whole giving birth thing actually isn’t that much of a big deal, your “bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan” refrain pales in comparison to my Spartan qualities, etc.  

Of course I won’t say any of those things.  Nope. Because such boasting will only lead to my being grabbed by the heels again on another cold and rainy morning next week.  And I don’t think we men are capable of repeating this morning’s victory.  So I will have to settle for (quietly) savoring this one glorious morning when indeed, for once, it was rainin’ men. 

Thanks for reading. 

This Is Not the Dad You’re Looking For….

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Another parenting milestone today.  One I absolutely saw coming.  Utterly predictable. Should have accepted it with grace.  Better yet, I could have avoided it altogether. Alas, I attempted one more “spandex-suited school lunch” with my second born than the universe would allow. And when I say “universe,” I mean my newly-minted 12 year-old’s sense of propriety. 

This is a tradition I have enjoyed for approximately a dozen years, give or take, since my elder son was a kindergartner.  Saddle up and ride my bike from our home in San Francisco out to my sons’ school in Marin. Slide into the cafeteria line, and enjoy a little lunch with one of my boys.  When Max or Everett measured up merely to my navel, these unannounced journeys would be met with genuine “My Dad is here! My Dad is here!” over-the-top enthusiasm.  They might even jump into my arms at a full sprint, causing my slick cycling shoes to lose purchase with the pavement. I don’t think this magic ever wore off for Max, even as he grew taller, older, and graduated out.  

Everett, on the other hand, is officially over it. After today, I suspect he would avert his eyes, disclaim my paternity, possibly take a vow of silence as it relates to me, should I tempt fate with a lunchtime bike ride ever again. 

Back to today. I arrived at school with a few minutes to spare before the appointed lunch hour of 12:05pm, using it to clean up in the adult restroom, so as not to appear a sweaty mess with a mohawk-esque hairdo.  As I duck-walked towards the bathroom, I saw a strangely familiar face head off in the other direction — at least I thought I saw a familiar face.  I dismissed the notion almost immediately, as I was already wasting precious time and had to focus on stepping daintily in the name of safety with cycling shoes that aren’t made for stepping on anything. Plus, why in the world would George Lucas be hanging around my kids’ school? 

So I cleaned up.  Cleaned up nice, even. Made my way (carefully, again) back to the usual rendezvous point at which I’ve met my sons dozens of times over a dozen years.  I saw Everett come running at a full sprint with the rest of his buddies, as if none had eaten in weeks.  I felt the familiar feeling of expectation and anticipation as he approached. Our eyes met, he stopped short, and I knew — immediately — that I had made a terrible mistake.  I was not the Dad he was looking for, “Star Wars” aficionados might have said.  I suspect he didn’t want to see any Dad. Certainly not his dad, at least not while his dad was decked out in spandex.  

To Everett’s credit, he was polite. (His parents have evidently taught him some manners.) We sat across from each other at the lunch table, my legs cramping due to a seat too close to the floor, and ate.  Unlike every other lunch like this over the years, he and I were an island unto ourselves.  His school chums did not sit with us.  No high-fives with anyone — though I have coached many of them on baseball and basketball teams over the years. Ev suffered through 15 minutes of relative ostracism. Gamely — if monosyllabically — answering my vanilla questions that fell flat at striking up a meaningful conversation.  Thankfully, the kiddie rumor mill confirmed that George Lucas had apparently visited campus that morning.  My “sighting” of him sparked a few seconds of novelty and appreciation in my 6th grader’s eyes, saving me from an otherwise disastrous lunch. 

Everett and I became separated in the chaotic recycling/composting/garbage line that immediately follows lunch.  I scanned the room and playground.  But he wasn’t there.  For a moment or two more, I hung around out of force of habit. I am conditioned to his needing to see me, and his feeling abandoned if I disappear unannounced without saying goodbye. The moment passed.  And that period of his life where he needed to see me and say goodbye has passed, too, I realized, standing there in my spandex and slippery cycling shoes.  

Yet another instance where I grudgingly acknowledge that I am slowly working myself out of the best job I have ever had: Being Dad. 

I geared up for the long ride home, without exchanging goodbyes with my son.  A bit of an empty feeling in my stomach, despite the full plate of cafeteria food gurgling away in there.  The trek back to San Francisco was more challenging than it should have been, most likely because I had taken a bit of an emotional hit.  I arrived back home on fumes — physically and emotionally running on empty.  This was the fatigued and depleted state in which I lingered, in a bit of a funk, while absent-mindedly pulling on sneakers to take the dog for a quick afternoon jaunt around the block. 

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Fortunately, I caught my error shortly before Everett arrived back home on the school bus.  Disaster (narrowly) averted.  I had barely endured the morning’s “Last Spandex Lunch” experience. I surely would not have survived the disgusted look on Ev’s face had he spied his old man shuffling around the house with two different sneakers on. And this time, George Lucas could not save me. 

Thanks for reading.  

Santa Claus Is (Not) Coming to Town

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This longstanding letter-writing tradition will not be repeated in the Beadling Household this year. For the first time in 16 years, there will be no Santa Claus on Beach Street. This sudden, stunning development hardly lacks for explanation.  

To be sure, for example, Everett has stretched — and arguably burst like a popped balloon — the boundaries between “naughty” and “nice.”

Last night, he deployed some trademark foot-dragging on the way to his piano lesson. He emphasized his displeasure with this weekly task, and tamped down any minuscule notion in my head of future rock stardom, by sarcastically promising to pay me $100 should he “ever have a career in the music business.” This is a piece of U.S. Currency he has absolutely zero intention of slapping into my hand. Later, Ev maligned his obligation to participate in that evening’s Midweeklies Holiday Dance, and wore in protest the exact same jacket and tie outfit he has worn for this event for the past two months, like a prison jumpsuit. At the celebratory event’s conclusion, Ev expressed major aggravation, bordering on outrage, that his parents arrived to pick him up at 8:02 pm rather than the appointed hour of 8:00 pm: “See?! This is why I need an iPhone!” 

Just this morning, I attempted to “healthy up” some leftover macaroni and cheese by tossing in a handful of spinach leaves. Surveying the breakfast offering warily without breaking stride, Everett announced, “Nice try, Dad,” and speed-walked right out of the kitchen.  Eventually, he took up his place at the table, spending 15 minutes pushing differently-colored items to and from different corners of his plate.  Though he appeared to be earnestly absorbing our informative lectures about nutrition and “the most important meal of the day,” Everett, we later realized, had wisely run out the clock.  No more time for eating this mushy spinach, you see, since the school bus would be leaving the school bus stop in about two minutes hence.

Everett’s obstinance continued unabated in our garage, as he filled those two minutes by grumpily untying and retying his fairly new sneakers with quintuple knots. Somehow those quintuple knots are directly attributable to something my wife did or did not do.  “Ask mom!” he snapped when I asked why he hadn’t let me simply cut and burn the laces’ ends.  He then came as close as he ever has to breaking my pristine, 12-year streak of bus stop perfection. The bus pulled away from the curb, then came to an abrupt halt, as my little ingrate sprinted toward it with a frown. I managed an apologetic wave to our friend the bus driver, and then tried to convey a disapproving scowl through tinted windows at the general area where my son usually sits.

So yes, this insolent behavior might be off-putting to Santa. 

But Santa’s conspicuous absence this year could also be explained by some arguably rough treatment in the past.  Like the time our dog chewed him to bits. Leaving poor Santa in our backyard, disheveled and fearing for his life —

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Or the time we (allegedly) ran Santa over —

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For what it’s worth, this particular traffic mishap cannot be blamed on me.  As my wife will tell you, I haven’t managed to parallel park our Prius (or anybody’s else’s Prius) this close to the curb in years. 

Could it be, then, because we are blithely breaking with tradition, embarking on a family trip to warmer climes this year, rather than staying home and awaiting our hung stockings to be filled? I suspect Santa will forgive our attempt to make some new memories in this, the first Holiday season since my wife’s mom passed away.  Under the circumstances, even Everett sees the merit of sacrificing his usual gaggle of gifts under the Christmas tree for airplane tickets. 

In fact, none of this explains why there’ll be no milk and cookies and carrot sticks left on our fireplace’s mantel this year.

The real reason is that 2017 marks the first Christmas Season in which Everett knows Santa doesn’t exist. I can hardly fathom how we kept the dream alive for as long as we did. But indeed, it is the end of the road for St. Nick in these parts. Rough stuff for our second-born (and for his parents).  And I think he’s having a hard time with it: Letting go of Santa Claus.

The other night at dinner, Everett concocted an elaborate fib about a bright crimson, recently-bloody scratch that had mysteriously appeared on his neck during the school day. Ev claimed he had merely stumbled and fallen in a bush.  Later, under intense questioning from his mother,  he admitted that a friend of his had scratched him in anger, right after Everett had chucked a football at said friend’s head. Also in anger. Ev assured us, however, that he and his friend had ultimately “worked it out.” Nevertheless, given our past experiences with both of our children, we remain conditioned to anxiously await a call or email from school.  The call never came. The email never sent.

Maybe the “Football Scratch Incident” was truly not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, we figured. Then again, maybe Santa had one final gift up his sleeve, even if Everett and his family probably didn’t deserve it.  

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Thanks for reading. And Happy Holidays.