Month: September 2014

Marina to Modesto by Helicopter.


If you are up well before the sun at 4:50am to get to Modesto for your 13 year-old’s 8:00am travel soccer game, you might be a helicopter parent.

If you passed an all-too-familiar travel baseball complex 30 minutes ago in Manteca, you might be a helicopter parent.

(If you have heard of neither Modesto nor Manteca, breathe a sigh of relief, because you are likely not a helicopter parent, at least not of the Northern California variety.)

Am I a helicopter parent? I just might be.

I don’t complain, not a peep. I’m perfectly happy to set the alarm for 4:50am. I actually open my eyes at 4:40am, momentarily panicked by the lighter-than-expected backyard mostly obscured by the window shade a couple feet from my side of the bed. I navigate the dog toy-strewn carpet to the bathroom in the pitch black. Widening my eyes like a crazy person, thinking somehow this will help me see better. Help me avoid placing my bare foot down on Wailea’s marrow bone.

I have a well-oiled routine, because I’ve done this dozens of times now over the course of the last few years. A tight schedule is committed to memory, and silently running in the background.

Max rousted shortly before 5am. His bag already packed and waiting to be lifted into the Prius with minimal effort. The pajama-clad teenager slides into the backseat, his night’s slumber only interrupted for a couple minutes. Go back to sleep.

The chopper lifts off at 5am, Modesto-bound.

I know where I need to gas up. Right across the street from a Starbucks I know to be open at 5am. A handful of homeless and jet-lagged tourists wait in line with me, briefly, staring blankly at the refrigerated juices. Coffee and breakfast sandwiches — key elements of the early am road trip routine — in-hand, I pop back into the car within 2 minutes.

By 5:06am, I’m gassed up, caffeine-ready, and en route. And ahead of schedule. Waze rewards my military-like precision with a projected 10-minute arrival time cushion before the obligatory 7am show up.

The boy sleeps, snoring loudly enough that I glance back at him, thinking he’s joking. Not joking, just in deep sleep. Sweet dreams.

We pull in to the soccer “complex” — vaguely reminiscent of the maximum security prisons and military grade trucking depots nearby — with plenty of time to spare. And of course that time is already accounted for. Ten minutes is about what it takes for me to jumpstart my teenager, prodding him to finish his cold breakfast sandwich and $4 orange juice (best enjoyed by October 1, 2014). And even allotting him 30 seconds for an anxious search for his missing shinguard, his panic ultimately proving unfounded (as always).

His cleat bottoms touch down on the parking lot pavement at 6:55am. Four-dollar orange juice dangling from his fingers, shuffling towards the complex’s front gate, decked out in his team’s red uniform kit.

Mission Accomplished.

If any of this sounds familiar, you just might be a helicopter parent too.

Thanks for reading.

Blood and Gore to the Rescue.


Everett’s first-ever travel baseball tournament game starts in 30 minutes. He’s been to this particular complex in Sunnyvale a couple dozen times. All as a spectator. Watching his big brother, who lives to be watched.

Everett does not live to be watched. He’s happiest when the spotlight is on someone else.

On the car ride down here this morning, he offered up an out-of-the blue observation about the merits of low expectations. If this were my older son, Max, I may have launched into a tirade, possibly laced with expletives, and likely including ample references to data points like the 5:50am wakeup call, the $50 “baseball bag” with neoprene bat sleeves purchased just yesterday, and the fact that I got along just fine with cut-off long underwear when I played and didn’t need high end “sliding shorts.”

But Ev isn’t Max, as I’m learning still, so I had to follow a different approach altogether. And it’s not one that comes naturally. Not to me, at least.

I paused for a beat or two, checked again the distance until our exit off 101 according to Waze, and rolled the dice, keenly aware that if I blew this, Ev would refuse to get out of the car when we pulled into the parking lot.

“Well, if we all settled for low expectations, think of all the things that would never have been accomplished. No one would have invented cars. There would be no Internet. No Olympic Games. No man on the moon. So it’s actually good to have high expectations, to challenge yourself, because that’s how you grow, how you learn what you’re made of, how you find the best in yourself, and maybe you’ll find that you can do things you didn’t think you could do.”

Pretty good, right? And I think this is basically verbatim. As if I pulled the “Low Expectations Talk” index card out of the Fatherly Advice packet and read from it after clearing my throat (and of course without lowering the quality of my freeway driving).

And from the backseat? Crickets. Nothing. I half-expected a gasp, maybe a gasp plus applause and a “Bravo!” shouted by my red-faced and profoundly inspired 8 year-old.

Um, yeah. No.

I soldiered on, kept my legs moving, shucked and jived. Instead of high-minded inspiration about the evolution of mankind, I went for something more visceral.

I suspected (correctly) that Ev was perseverating about getting plunked on the back at last night’s practice by an errant throw from catcher to first base while Ev was running to 1st base himself. No doubt the bruise on his right shoulder blade still smarted, pressed as he was into the backseat. I needed a strong visual to capture Everett’s attention, snap him out of this pre-game funk, pull him back from dangling over the precipice by his fingertips.

Enter Tony C.

I pulled up the famously grotesque Tony Conigliaro Sports Illustrated cover. Then I handed my iPhone and Tony’s bulging, purple eye socket over my shoulder to Everett.

“Woah, look at that black eye! Wow!”

Mission Accomplished.

Everett was now recalibrated and ready to go. His memory banks wiped clean. Not a care in the world. All it took was a little blood and gore. Whatever works.

Thanks for reading.

Who forgot to pay the Gravity Bill?

photo-1From the backseat the other afternoon whilst shooting towards the Golden Gate Bridge on the 101 South:

Ev:  “Dad, I wish there was such a thing as a ‘Gravity Bill.'”

Me:  [Pausing to digest this tidbit, searching my distracted brain, half-panicked trying not to reveal how much more intelligent my 8 year-old is than I.] “Oh?  Why?”

Ev:  “Because I wouldn’t pay the bill.” 

Me: [Realizing immediately that the jig is up, once again.  I haven’t the slightest idea where he is going with this, and our intellectual chain of command is so fragile.  Creaking loudly and about to snap altogether.]  “Oh? Why not?”

Ev:  “Because I want to float around, not be stuck with gravity.”

Me: [At once both proud of my 3rd grader’s flexible mind and disappointed in the fact that this line of thinking has never occurred to me.  I whisper, hopefully not audibly, “Damnit!!”] “Yeah, that would be cool, huh?” [Then I try to regain my footing, to catch up with him, to show that I am a worthy brainiac companion.] “Although, whom would we pay?  The city?  The County of San Francisco?  Planet Earth?”

And then the moment was gone.  Everett has paused long enough to give me a glimpse of his mind’s inner workings.  Just to let me know that his being quiet back there does not mean he’s contemplating the right moment to pick his nose undetected.  Some deep thoughts going on back there.  Far deeper than the thoughts going on in the driver’s seat.  At least when I’m the one doing the driving.

These exchanges — infrequent and brief, but powerful — remind me how woefully unequipped I am to provide my children with a fertile environment in which to exercise their minds.  By the way, as if to underscore this point, I first typed “inequipped” in that previous sentence, before being scolded by the dotted red underline for my grammatical ineptitude.  (At least I got “ineptitude” right all by myself.) 

We are all four together pretty much only at dinnertime.  By then, I’m tired.  Beat from juggling consulting work with a number of interesting clients.  Truly interesting work, stimulating, and with neat companies.  But it sometimes feels like I’m jamming a week’s worth of work into a few hours of intense hammering away.  Somewhere in there I will have managed to walk the dog a few times.  Maybe even a longer walk in the Presidio, say, where it feels like she might actually be getting the run she needs.  And usually I will have managed to break a sweat of my own, hopping on the lightly-rusted spin bike, slipping into the Bay, or going for a short run on rickety legs.  Some element of carpooling, to-practice driving, or bus stop pickup will come into play.  And then I have learned to really enjoy prepping dinner.  I have a very limited array of dinner options I know how to make, but it’s my array, and I’ve become fairly dependable within my own, narrow culinary parameters.  And I’ve also somehow gotten very interested in the table setting stuff — table runners, chargers, cool little napkin rings, the whole sh-bang.  Dunno how I fell into that, but fall I have. 

Net net, by the time I lower my 46 year-old carcass into my dining table chair, I’m pretty much spent.  Done. Functioning on only the barest of brain functions.  Relying on my autonomic nervous system to keep taking air into my lungs.  Not exactly prime time, then, for being the fantastic, engaging Dad I fancy myself.  Particularly in this age of omnipresent digital screens, dinner time time is supposed to be the time.  The best time.  For engaging in true face-to-face conversation.  The tribe reconnecting over the fire at the end of the day to share stories and continue an ancient oral tradition. 

If we were a tribe, and if I were sitting near the fire, I would smell something burning, realizing 30 seconds too late that my heel is scorched and blistered.  And probably grossed out that I had been thinking “hmm, something smells good, did I cook that?” only moments earlier. 

So like I said, tired.  And once again, probably guilty of setting unrealistic expectations, too.  Guilty of that, for sure.

Fortunately, I’m wide awake and reasonably alert at 8am, which is when I write.  Blog, I mean.  And sitting here now, clear-headed (sort of), it occurs to me that the opportunities to noodle over the pluses and minuses of gravity are all around us.  Happening all the time.  They can’t be curated or conjured up on demand.  They just happen.  And that’s the fun of it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find that damned Gravity Bill.  I have a nagging suspicion it hasn’t been paid this month, and all hell will break loose.

Thanks for reading.

Nerf Gun-Nut


Hi, my name is Keir.

Hi, Keir.

Thanks.  I guess I’m here because, well, uhm, it’s just that.  I don’t know how it started or when it started. But, uhm….

Come on, Keir, you can do it.

OK, well.  Here it is: I’m a Nerf Gun-Nut.


There, I said it. What a relief.

As I’ve written before (on the topic of paintball), despite my best efforts to the contrary, I can’t help but be trigger-happy once my forefinger locks around a trigger.  For a variety of presumably obvious reasons, I despise guns.  Let me say that in a more accurate way:  I despise real guns.  And I have long thought that any kind of pretend gunplay around the house on the part of my kids could lead to nothing but dire consequences.  In the short-term, you’ll shoot your eye out.  In the long-term, you’ll become a gun-toting militia leader hunted down by the ATF, your final moments broadcast on CNN via grainy chopper footage.

Granted, I’ve been given to a bit of catastrophizing here.  But I have rationalized it away by telling myself that anything gun-related is so inherently evil that no amount of catastrophizing is too catastrophic. 

So imagine my chagrin when I found myself cruising Amazon the other morning in search of the perfect Nerf gun with which I planned to massacre my kids. And it was all I could do to resist the urge to have my weapon of choice delivered to my doorstep ASAP,  the shipping expense outstripping the price of the Nerf N Strike Elite Strong Arm itself.  But I’ve read the delayed gratification marshmallow studies, and so I decided I could wait a couple extra days before showing my boys who’s boss. 

Once my Elite Strong Arm arrived, I ripped into the box with abandon, selfishly and loudly proclaiming, “This is Daddy’s gun, do not touch it under any circumstances!” as I clutched the barrel and grip overhead, making crazy-eyed eye contact with each of my sons, for emphasis.  They have been raised appropriately with respect to this whole gun topic.  So they were understandably vexed by this scene.  They likely figured this was some sort of elaborate trap on my part, set to determine the strength of their jelly-headed grasp on our family’s stance regarding guns.

That’s precisely the state of confusion, uncertainty, disruption, lack of structure, that I had hoped for. 

For the next couple days, we all partook in Nerf gun battles royale.  The boys built massive forts out of foot stools, couch cushions, and afghan blankets.  They horded styrofoam Nerf gun bullets into a massive cache.  They peered at me and their mother–both of us armed, of course–from between pillows and around corners.  They peppered our ribs and backs with unexpected attacks from all corners of the house.  And Hilary and I gave as good as we got, triangulating on our targets, using unintelligible hand gestures we’d seen in one or another of the Rambo movies, storming the bastion. 

It went on like this for days.  One long series of spontaneous skirmishes.  We only eased up when Max smashed his foot into the base of the couch at a full sprint into the living room, trying desperately to avoid the sniper (me) lying in wait.  And when the dog, thoroughly confused, would bark, jump and snap at my Elite Strong Arm fired when out of ammo.  Something about the unproductive “pfft! pfft!” sound that drove her into a maddened state. 

And I think this is probably the whole point; the reason why I have been able to get past my general disgust for all things guns when it comes to Nerf.  I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about unstructured play.  How important it is for kids’ developing brains.  A powerful ally for parents as an antidote for all the over-scheduling, Zombie-like screen-staring, and generally mind-numbing existence to which we’re all subscribing our children.  I figure for every between-the-white-lines, managed by whistle-blowing referees game my boys play, they and we deserve an equal amount of time to cut loose with reckless abandon in a hail of styrofoam bullets.

Anyhow, I’ve got to run.  I have a few dozen foam darts to scavenge and sock away in preparation for my next after-school battle.

Thanks for reading.

Mosquito Lancelot

Screenshot 2014-09-02 08.14.46

Chivalry is not dead. 

It lives on in post-10pm, darkened bedrooms all over the Marina District this time of year.  For this is the season of the dreaded backyard mosquito.  The one that slips undetected through the sliding doors, lying in wait until evening time. Clinging unnoticed to the ceiling or high on the wall.  Holding its little breath so as not to attract attention due to a heaving little chest or premature vibrating of its proboscis.  Slowly rubbing its little prickly feet together.  Grinning.  Plotting each step of its imminent assault in the dark. 

“When the light switch clicks off, that’s when we’ll get down to business,” whispers the sneaky bastard to his fellow Culicidae co-conspirators. 

But there is no such business to be had this evening.  Not in My Ladyship’s castle.  Not while My Lady sleeps.


For M’Lady’s Champion roams the halls of this particular castle.  I am Lancelot.  Knight of the Round Table.  Killer of Mosquitoes.

At the first audible “wheeeee” I spring from my chamber bed, deftly drawing my sword Tanlladwyr — which looks very much like a modern-day hand towel. 

En gard, you sonsabitches!

Over the next 90 seconds, I lunge, quarte (covering my upper left torso), octarv (swooping over my lower right torso and leg), sixte (for the upper right torso and sword arm), then riposte when one of the midge-like flies buzzes my ear.  Now i seize the moment.  The world nearly stops, and I see everything in slow motion and in 360-degrees.  As in The Matrix.  I deploy a ballestra then flèche — my best move.  Stamping then darting aggressively towards my attackers, arm extended.  Sprinting past them so as to avoid a blood-sucking in the event that my attack does not meet its target. I scream like a banshee, just for effect.  “Aaaayeeeeeeeeeheeee!!”

And then it is over. 

I haven’t even begun to break a sweat.  M’Lady groggily lifts a pillow off her dainty head and looks at me with one squinty eye.  I slip Tanlladwyr back into its scabbard, and retake my position next to M’Lady.  The assault on the castle has been quashed.  The attackers dispatched.  Faint red streaks on the chamber walls the only indication of the bloody battle that has just transpired.  I can feel M’Lady staring at me in wonderment.  Scarcely able to comprehend the sublime perfection to which she alone has borne witness only moments earlier. 

But M’Lady needn’t utter a word of gratitude.  The battle’s euphoric aftermath is repayment enough.  Her Champion drifts off to sleep.  Victorious.  

In actuality, I don’t think I managed to kill a single one of them.  But I’m polishing up my armor for tonight.

Thanks for reading.