August 31, 2009

Try, little girl, try

You are so bold, little girl. When we are in the comfort of our own home, your confidence screams out in ways that make me smile just thinking about it. Like the way you cock your head to the side and smile at me when I take your picture. Or the way you take command of the play time and direct me and your brother with the authority of a drill sergeant. Or the way you do something funny and then laugh hysterically, knowing that I will join in with you. That is the Swee’Pea I know.

But not everyone knows this Swee’Pea. No, when we venture out – beyond the safety of our humble abode – you show another side. A shy, unsure little girl who wants to hold her Daddy’s hand rather than face a new challenge. One who has trouble approaching others on the playground, even though I can tell you want, so very badly, to make a new friend. It is times like these that my heart hurts for you, my little girl. I cannot help but wonder how difficult it must be for you and I want, so very badly, to teach you to be that confident little girl even when we stretch beyond the safety of our home.

For that reason we signed you and your brother up for gymnastics at the Y this past week. This was definitely something new and I had high hopes that your love of dancing would translate well into gymnastics. We prepared you as best as we could, telling you and your brother all week that we would be doing tumbling with other boys and girls. We explained that mommy and daddy would watch you as the teachers would help you. We reassured that we wouldn’t be far away.

None of that mattered.

You were scared. You didn’t want to stop clutching me, even as the little girls gathered around the teachers for stretching. And yet, you didn’t want to leave either. So we watched. And I could tell you were trying to be brave. Your brother was also trying to be brave and it is times like these that I am glad you have each other for support. Together, you decided to join the group as we made our way out to the large gymnastics center, complete with trampolines, balance beams and soft, cushioned pads. But you were still scared. And you began to cry…


But you didn’t want to leave. And then you summoned your strength and you bit down on your lip and you followed your brother and the other little girls around the obstacle course, doing somersaults, and jumping and running and then, before I knew it, you were smiling.

Bri Smiles

And after all was said and done, you walked off that gymnastics floor beaming with pride. I can still feel the hug and I told you then what I’m telling you now. I’m so very proud of you. I am proud of you because, in spite of your shyness and the fear of trying something new, you somehow seem to overcome that fear and try. And when you try, you always seem to have a good time. My prayers for you, little one, is that you will always try and that each time you do, it gets a little easier for you.

Because the obstacle courses never really go away. You just have to keep trying to overcome them. And I’ll always be nearby to cheer you on.


August 27, 2009

Going down swinging

[Editor's note: Tania from Chicky Chicky Baby and I had a bet.  It was simple. If your Little League team lost, you had to write a guest post singing the praises of the other's baseball team.  She's a Red Sox fan - something I've been trying to convince her isn't in her best interests - especially since it's an AL team and baseball was meant to be played with 9 players, not 10.  But I digress.  She lost the bet.  And THIS is what she sent me.  Half the post is defending her poor decision to make the bet in the first place and the second half is... not exactly what I had in mind.  But whatever.  I know it took the Red Sox like a 1,000 years to be good so I won't blame her for jumping on the band wagon now.  Anyway, here's her LOSER post.]

I am not a fan of the Little League World Series. There’s something about watching a gang of boys on the cusp of true adolescence try so hard to emulate their sports heroes and only to give up 10 runs in the fifth inning that chokes me up. Sure there are winners – if there are losers there must be someone who wins – but watching the losing team try valiantly to hold on to any semblance of fabricated maturity when faced with putting one in the Lost column after months, even years, of hard work… Let’s just say when I see a twelve year old boy dissolve into angry tears while trying to hide his shame with his ball cap, it makes the Mama Bear in me come out. I want to squeeze them and bake them cookies. And maybe wipe away the dirt on their faces with a spit covered tissue. Which is not weird AT ALL.

So when Matthew wanted to make a bet that his Chula Vista Park View Little League team would beat the local boys from Peabody, MA, I had to root for the home team despite my feelings.

(Although, honestly Peabody is not so local compared to where I live in the state. But whatever, it’s a small state. Everyone pretty much knows everyone else.)

(Okay not really.)

(But let’s get this straight right now, Peabody is not pronounced Pee-Body. It’s not a cartoon dog. It’s pronounced Pee-Buh-Dee. Yes, I feel better now. Thanks for asking.)

I couldn’t say no. I knew it was a fool’s bet – in Little League and High School baseball it takes a special group of northern kids to be able to compete at the same level as teams who get to play all year round because they have access to better weather conditions – but I wouldn’t give Matthew the satisfaction of backing down. There’s the whole East Coast/West Coast thing to consider. I’ve got a rep to protect. East Coast represent!

The stakes: Loser would have to say something nice about the winner’s Major League team. I’m a Red Sox fan – Naturally. I mean, isn’t everyone? – and he’s a Padres fan. Probably the only one.  American League vs. National League.  Designated hitter vs. those who secretly wish they had a designated hitter.  I mean, purists.  Whatever.

Long story short, I lost. I mean, Peabody lost. Chula Vista and their 6 foot 2 inch, 215 pound 13 year old pitcher trounced on the poor, sweet and innocent boys of Peabody. It was painful. There were tears. Ugly tears. The boys looked pretty upset, too.

So now I have to write something nice about the Padres.


Wow, something nice about the Padres? Uh…

Oh, I know! I’ve had a Tony Gwynn rookie card since I was 10 years old. He’s practically the patron saint of the Padres. I can’t believe I held onto it for so long considering all the ones I sacrificed to the spokes of my Pink Huffy tires. It’s in mint condition and it’s worth about sixty bucks at this point… But I think I left it behind with my ex husband and I’m not going back to get it any time soon. And if I continue with this line of thought I may say something nasty so that’s probably not the nice thing Matthew was expecting…. Back to the drawing board.

Something nice, something nice… Hmm…

Petco Park seems great. Beautiful, modern and all that.  I’m jealous…. You can probably get sushi while watching a game! Am I right? Much better than cramped seats and boiled hot dogs and almost a hundred years of baseball legends. Who needs history when you have raw fish wrapped in seaweed! And from what I hear you never have to worry about getting a decent seat – there’s lots of empty ones! So there’s that.

Hey, isn’t your mascot the Chicken??

I loved that guy! I used to watch the Baseball Bunch when I was a kid and that darn Chicken always upstaged Johnny Bench. What skill! What charisma! What… What’s that? He’s not the Padres’ mascot? Well what the hell good is he?? Your mascot is a priest? A Friar? The Swinging Friar? Well, nothing says baseball like a man of the cloth, that’s what I always say. I could also say something about how even God Himself wouldn’t be able to help the Padres but as a lapsed Catholic I’m afraid of the inevitable lightning strike. So, moving on.

(Sorry about the “Hell” thing, God. I’m sure the Chicken counts as one of Your blessed creatures. Don’t hurt me.)

I’ve got it! No really, you’re going to love this one. This is the best thing I can think of about the Padres.


On behalf of Major League Baseball, its fans, players, and associates, we would like to thank the Padres for being a glorified farm team as of late. Because of you other teams, real contenders if you will, have picked up some choice players in the past few years and have gone on to winning seasons. Give yourself a hand, Padres! You’re Triple A but with better salaries! And I’m sure Adrian Gonzalez is there to stay… Until someone else offers him a more lucrative contract.

And if that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, at least you’re not the Mets.

August 25, 2009

I know you.

I have always known you.

From the day you were born, when I first held you in my arms, I knew you. I knew the boy who fussed at night and who insisted on eating every morning at 4:00 a.m. I knew the boy who loved his binky and would laugh at a moments notice. And I knew the boy that hardly talked until overnight, it seemed, we couldn’t get you to shut up. I knew you then.

I knew you when you would seek out my approval and need my reassurance before trying new things. I knew you when you took your first uncertain steps into my waiting arms. I knew you when a kiss from Daddy made every boo-boo go away. I knew you then.

But now? As time has precipitated change at a staggering rate, I am left to wonder, how much do I know you? Am I able to keep up this knowledge of who you are as time goes by so fast I grasp at memories and try desperately to hold onto them as they slip through my fingers like a fine beach sand. I wonder if I know you because suddenly, it seems, you are not the little boy I once knew.

You are no longer the boy who once needed my help for everything. No, you are the boy who hops on his scooter and rides it fast and fearless. You are the boy who breaks out into song and dance whenever the moment strikes. You are the boy who tells me your favorite “Knock Knock” joke as if it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it. You are the boy who shares with his sister and gives kisses and nose rubs at night.

And when I think of all this, I realize that, yes… I do know you. How could I doubt how much I know you? I know you like I know the lines on my own face. Even with the changes, I know you. I know you because you are… a part of me. And as I watch you grow into a little boy who loves life, I feel a sense of pride that I am helping you grow into a wonderful little boy. And I’m so happy that I know you.

You are a boy whose confidence grows by leaps and bounds every day. You have transformed from the boy who would tell me “I can’t…” to the boy who now looks at me with all sorts of seriousness in your eyes and tells me, “Daddy, I can do anything.”

Yes, Son, you can. You can do anything.

And even then, I’ll know you.

August 19, 2009

Candy Land Gone Bad

It started out as a nice Saturday morning. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. And other than putting food in front of my kids, I hadn’t had to do a darn thing. Change my kids out of their PJs? I laughed at that notion. That would require going upstairs and upstairs is something we do everything we can to avoid when we are being lazy on a Saturday morning.

In another example of how fate was on my side for this lazy and luxurious morning was the kids, surprisingly, were not begging me to join in their play. Not once was I asked to play “Jump on Daddy” or “Jab Daddy in the Eye” or, my personal favorite, “Kick our legs until Daddy sings Soprano.” I even thought I hit paydirt when the kids asked to get out the Candy Land game stashed under our coffee table. This could take up considerable time. So I quickly set up the board and laid back down on my couch, resting from the considerable effort I had just put forth. I watched to make sure they were playing correctly as this was their first ever game without Daddy or Mommy playing with them. They seemed to grasp the idea and they were having fun. Witness:

As I absorbed myself in the hard task of relaxing with Mommy on the couch, suddenly I sense the mood has shifted over in Candy Land. Early on TheMonk had jumped out to a sizeable lead due to an uncanny ability to pick cards with two colored squares on them. Swee’Pea, on the other hand, was plodding along one square at a time. Now, I may have heard TheMonk gloat a little bit (Na. Na na. Na. Naaaa. I’m wiiiinnnnnning.) and that may have lead to a certain girl taking matters into her own hands (i.e. cheating) and before you knew it, my relaxing morning had turned into pure chaos. Witness:

Candy Land Agony

So, I did what any 21st century dad would do. No, I didn’t rush to console them. I grabbed the video camera. A bad morning? Or a trend? You be the judge.

August 16, 2009

When Elvis Left the Building

Thirty-two years ago. A lifetime. But not even a lifetime. Thirty-two years ago today my father died. He left behind a young wife and two young sons and a lifetime of “what ifs.”

And thirty-two years ago, my mother had the presence of mind to write down the details in my brother’s baby book. It reads:

“Aug. 16, 1977 Benjamins and Matt’s daddy died tonight at about 7:30 p.m. He had bought a 1942 dump truck. He was going to start his own hauling business to make extra money for his family. He picked up the truck about 5:30 p.m. at Rancho Lynn in Corralitos. He drove it back to Aromas and took it up to Seely Ave to have Rick and Pam Fischer look at it. He knew the breaks were bad. But he thought he could make it in 1st gear down their driveway. Well he couldn’t. He tried to jump out and I’m not sure what caused his death. He died enroute to the hospital. Elvis Presley died the same day. I loved him. Sept. 1st would have been our 9th anniversary.”

Since this is my de-facto baby book, I wanted to write to my own children about this significant event in my life.

Dear Swee’Pea and TheMonk,

This week, for some interesting reason, you began asking me about my father. Especially you, Monk, and I could tell that the questions were being asked for more than general knowledge. You asked how he died. You asked why he died. You asked what happened to him after he died. And in the back of your mind, as you digested my answers (which I tried to do in an honest, yet gentle, way), I could tell that what you were really asking was, “Daddy, are you going to die?”

And that, my son, is my greatest fear. You are too young to explain how my entire life has been shaped by my father dying. You are too young to understand that the reason I am so devoted to you and your sister is that I want every. moment. to. count. I want you to know that, even if I were to die tomorrow, being your Daddy is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have written about this topic a few times and once even wrote a letter to my own father but when it comes to explaining death and looking into your eyes and seeing the confusion and the fear that you won’t be with me anymore makes my heart ache for you… and for me.

And as I told you this week, yes, I will die. But my fervent hope is that I will die someday in the future when you are confident enough to travel on this journey without needing the guidance of your father. I don’t want you, Monkey, to grow up wondering what it means to be a man. I don’t want you growing up having to figure out how to hold a hammer or how to shave your face or how to ask a girl out on a date. And, Swee’Pea, I don’t want you growing up wanting something from a man and searching in vain because you didn’t get it from me. I pray that by the time I die you will both miss me but not really need me.

I want to tell you how much I love you. I want to tell you that when I look down at your face as you are looking up at mine, I see your future and how very much I want to be a part of that. And I think of my own father and how much he missed and I am sad for him while my own heart aches from a hurt that never really goes away. I am reminded that my father wasn’t there to see my first hit in baseball. He wasn’t there to hear about my first crush. He wasn’t the one to teach me to drive or celebrate my running victories. He wasn’t there to see me graduate from high school or college or graduate school. He wasn’t there to see me get married or to see your beautiful faces for the first time. He missed so, so much. And my worst fear in the world is that I will miss those too.

And as tears stream down my face as I type this and the words are blurred as they appear on my screen, all I can tell myself, and tell you, is that I will do my best to be here for you. I will do everything I can to make sure that I wake up to be with you and share your life with you and guide you in ways that I never had. I want to teach you the joy of love and the comfort of humor and the mystery of the infield fly rule. I want to watch over you and help you grow into confident adults who know their father loves them and is their biggest fan. I want that for you. And I want that for me.

Death is the one certainty of life, my little ones. We don’t know when we will go and that makes it so much more important to embrace each day as the gift it is. I try not to forget that. It is why I am an optimist. It is why I will dance with you when you take the lead and it is why I probably say yes too often and no not enough. But it’s also why I say no when I really want to say yes and I say yes when I really want to say no. I want you to have what I lost thirty-two years ago today. I want you to have the comfort of knowing your father and knowing that he will love you and cherish you forever.


My brother and I both wrote on this topic today. Please read his post as well.

August 9, 2009

Til Death Do Us Part

“Will you play with me, Daddy?” Asks Swee’Pea, her chocolate-brown eyes looking up at me as she sits on the floor in the playroom, idly sifting through her tiaras, bracelets and necklaces that sit in a pile on the floor in front of her. I have just descended the stairs and there is no other response possible to this request than, “Yes, Swee’Pea, I’ll play with you.”

“What do you want to play?” I ask, thinking she will want to play Princess or have a tea party or perhaps put me in jail like she likes to do. But Swee’Pea has other ideas.

“I want to play Married.” she says. And with that, she scoops up a bouquet of fake flowers and stands up. “Okay, Swee’Pea. Who are you gonna marry?” I ask, thinking she has some handsome prince in mind and that I will play the role of the clergy marrying her to her knight in shining armor. “I want to marry you, Daddy.” she responds. And as I look into her eyes, I smile. I am honored that she has chosen me and knowing that this is her way of telling me that she loves me, I gladly accept her kind invitation. “That would be wonderful, Swee’Pea. How do we get married?”

“We dance and then I throw the flowers.” Of course. It is so simple in her young mind and so natural to want to marry her Daddy. I take her hands and begin to sing aloud “Here comes the Swee’Pea… Here comes the Swee’Pea…” We twirl around the room dancing while singing as I hold the little hands of my darling little girl. Suddenly, Mommy puts on a familiar song on the stereo and we shift from my pathetic warbling to the soft melody of Butterfly Kisses. We continue to dance and as I listen to the song I can’t help but wonder how fast time will fly and someday, too soon for my taste, she will no longer want to marry her Daddy and dance with him in the light of day and I’ll be left with memories of a little girl who thought there wasn’t anything better than her Daddy.

The music comes to an end and I dip her low on the floor. She hands me one of the flowers and we toss the flowers into the air three or four times for good measure. The moment has ended. But the memory won’t.


I am seated on the couch and it is just after dinner. We are about to head upstairs to get ready for bed when both TheMonk, then Swee’Pea, climb into my arms and snuggle their heads on my chest.

“I remember when you were babies, you used to snuggle together like this on my chest and it was my favorite thing in the whole world.” I tell them.

TheMonk ponders this and says, “Someday, I’ll have babies to snuggle on my chest too.” As there is a pause, it is evident TheMonk wants some clarity, knowing he cannot have babies himself. “But who will have the babies, Daddy?”

“I don’t know, Monkey. Someday, you will find someone who you love and you will get married and have babies.” I reply.

Swee’Pea, hearing this, says to me, “But Daddy, I will marry TheMonk.” I smile as my mind thinks back to our wedding “ceremony” earlier in the day. “No, Swee’Pea. When you are a grown-up I’m sure you will find someone who makes you happy and you will marry him. You can’t marry TheMonk.”

Swee’Pea cannot understand this and the sadness in her little voice as she rests her head on my chest, inches from TheMonk’s head, is palpable. “But Daddy, I love him. And I love you. I want to marry you.”

And there it is. The two “men” in her life are the only ones she can imagine being with and I smile at this bittersweet moment. I kiss the top of her head and breathe in the smell of her freshly washed hair. “I know, Swee’Pea. I love you too.”

I don’t want to shatter her illusion just yet. For now, she has her brother and her Daddy to keep her safe and I know that my job will be to teach her about how she should be treated by men. So that when the day comes for her to choose, she will choose someone who loves her as dearly and treats her as dearly as her brother and her father.

In the meantime, I’ll cherish the moment.

August 5, 2009

Family Vacation Reality Check

Back in the day, when my kids were brand new and I was still in that “Wow, I’m a father, I’m totally going to make a difference in my kids life” stage of fatherhood (rather than the current, “Let’s just not fuck this up too bad” stage), I envisioned great quality time with my kids. I envisioned idyllic Christmas scenes, playing catch in the back yard and long, wonderful family road trips that bonded us together in a way that wasn’t as creepy as it sounds. (Kinda like Clark Griswold only with a better car and less Christie Brinkley.)

We would take these long road trips, stopping off at places of historical interests, like the California missions, Hearst Castle or that rest stop on I-5 just outside of Buttonwillow. These trips would include captivating games of “I spy” and searching for letters of the Alphabet on road signs. We would sing “She’s Coming Around The Mountain” over and over again and we’d eat healthy snacks in between healthy meals at sit-down restaurants and at the end of the trip we’d all sit around and laugh about the great times we’d had together as a family.

But then, I stopped smoking all that crack and reality came crashing down on me like a ton of Paula Abduls. This past weekend, for example, we did take a road trip. We drove 487 miles to visit dear old Grandmother and this is how it went down…

8:35 a.m. We leave to gas up, eat at the local Panera and head off on our trip.
9:25 a.m. Return to the house to get forgotten items, including small toilet seat for the kids and High School Reunion Parking pass for me.
9:40 a.m. Backing out of the driveway TheMonk asks for the first time, “Are we there yet?” This might be some sort of record.
11:10 a.m. DVD player in back no longer works. I cry a little inside. TheMonk cries a little outside.
11:25 a.m. Come to a screeching halt outside of the Hell Hole otherwise known as L.A.
12:35 p.m. Finally get through L.A. traffic and start thinking of food. Wife feeds kids cookies to buy us more time.
1:40 p.m. Settle on McDonalds that is attached to a mini-mart. Due to long line for women’s restroom, I take both TheMonk, then Swee’Pea, then TheMonk again to the bathroom. The sign says “Free Mocha Mondays” but the man tells me they are out of mochas. I consider stabbing him with a petrified french fry but think better of it. On a similar note, petrified McDonald’s french fries that have been sitting under a warmer for quite some time should not be consumed.
2:20 p.m. Back on the road. I attempt to distract kids from long drive by asking them to count trucks. I assign red trucks to Monk and Blue trucks to Swee’Pea. This is a mistake as Swee’Pea wants to count Red Trucks too. I am seeing red but it isn’t from trucks.
2:30 p.m. I am asked for the 4,597th time, “Are we there yet?”
2:31 p.m. I am asked for the 4,598th time, “Are we there yet?”
2:45 p.m. The gods smile upon me as the kids fall asleep. Although I swear TheMonk asks me if we’re there yet in his sleep.
3:45 p.m. Awakened kids are treated to ice cream at the most run-down, dirty, Foster’s Freeze restaurant on the planet.
4:30 p.m. Swee’Pea tries a variant of the old “Are we there yet?” by whining aloud, “Is it going to take a long time?” I answer, “Yes. Yes it is!”
5:00 p.m. I am driving that car faster than I should but all I want is for that road to get behind me. TheMonk notices and says, “Daddy’s car can go fast!”
6:00 p.m. We are close. The coastal fog has rolled in and Swee’Pea is genuinely concerned that it is going to rain. Also, she asks, “Are we there yet?”
6:30 p.m. We arrive in my home town. We drive down Hwy 1 towards my mother’s house. The entire way they ask “Are we almost there?!” They also remark about how many trees there are. Note to self: Get the kids out of the suburbs more.
6:40 p.m. We arrive at Grandmother’s door. TheMonk tells his “knock knock” joke. (Knock Knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you gonna give me a smooch?!) And she does.

Only 85 hours til we do it again! Woo Hoo! (Are we there yet?)


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