March 15, 2014

You failed

You played in your third little league game today. In your previous two games, you struck out and then grounded out in your only at-bats. But progress was there and the coaches (of which I am one) have noticed how hard you have been working since the start of the season. Back when you couldn’t catch, or throw and could barely hit. But 8 weeks later, and you’re making progress and the coaches moved you up in the batting order. Today you hit second. And as I watched you from the dugout in your first at-bat, you watched two balls go by that were called for strikes. Then you swung and missed at the third pitch for strike three.

You jogged back to the dugout and your eyes met mine. “Hey, Buddy. You gotta swing the bat on those good pitches.” I tell you. I think it’s helpful advice but I can tell you hear it as criticism. You rest your helmeted head against my stomach and I can’t see your face. I move you away to arms-length so I can see your eyes and when they meet mine again, tears start to flow from them and stream down your dirt-smudged face.

“Oh, it’s okay, Buddy.” I say. I kneel down and give you a hug in front of your teammates. You don’t say anything but I can see the disappointment in your eyes. “Hey. It’s okay if you strike out. Everyone does it. I’m proud of you no matter what. Just try your hardest, okay?” We’ve talked a lot about effort and how important it is to do your best but I can see the doubt in your eyes right now. As if it’s being tested – as if my approval and my love depend on how whether you hit the ball or not. I hug you tight and tell you once more that it’s okay. The inning is over and it’s time to go out to the field. You grab your hat and glove and trot out to second base and my heart hurts for you as you paw at the dirt and take ground balls tossed from the first baseman.

I hurt and I’m conflicted because I have been very careful to frame baseball as something that is for fun and that the only thing I want from you is to try your hardest and learn as much as you can. We’ve talked a lot about this but now it’s being tested.

Luckily, our pitcher makes quick work of the opposing hitters and before we know it, you are back in the dugout. Soon, it’s your turn to bat. I wonder how you will respond but even before we can really see, you get hit on the leg by the pitch and are awarded first base. In retrospect, it’s probably the best thing that could happen. You were on the bases for the first time this season and you eventually came around to score. You were part of the game.

Your third at-bat was with the game well in hand. We were ahead 9 to 1 and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on anyone. There was one out and a runner on third. The opposing pitcher couldn’t find the strike zone and soon, as your league allows, it was the coach’s turn to pitch to you. That coach was me. I trotted out to the mound and I think I was more nervous than you. I only get four pitches and my first three were awful (one was even behind you!). On that fourth and final pitch, though, it was just like you and I at the park near our home. I tossed it in there you hit it into the ground towards the third baseman. The runner on third broke for the plate and you raced towards first. When it was all said and done, you had your first hit, your first RBI and your first big smile while standing on first base.

After the game, in a moment when it was just the two of us, I got down on my knee and I said, “I’m really proud of you, Buddy. After your first at-bat you were feeling terrible but you shook that off and came back and scored a run, got a hit and even made a nice play at second base. I’m really proud of you and I loved watching you play today.”

He looked at me and smiled and nodded. We embraced briefly. I pulled away again and looked into his eyes and said, “I’m really proud that you were able to shake off that strike out today. Sometimes, things don’t go the way we want them to and what we do next is what’s really important. Remember that, okay?” You nodded and smiled and we walked off towards the families waiting for us.

I’m not sure if this day will be a seminal moment but it was everything I was hoping sports would be. Sports are so much more than winning and losing. They are about overcoming failure and learning that failure doesn’t define us any more than success does. How we respond to adversity and disappointment means everything. And I’m glad I was there to help you learn that lesson. You failed. But then you didn’t.

Love, Daddy.

March 13, 2013

Smart is as Smart does


We met with your teacher today. I have come to enjoy these conferences as it allows me to bask in the glory of TheMonk. We’ve been doing this for three years now and every conference comes down to this… You are an incredibly smart little boy. As your teachers go over test scores and writing samples and we see perfect score after almost-perfect score, it is nice to hear that you are doing so well. It’s a testament to your hard work and your mother’s attention during homework and your natural curiosity that has propelled you to such heights. You are a very good student. Today, in fact, your teacher gushed that she thinks you have a shot to get a perfect score on the upcoming standardized testing. “Only 18 students in the district scored a perfect score last year.” She said.

But I don’t care about tests. You are good at taking tests and that skill will take you far in a world that doesn’t know how to judge anyone than by comparing them to a mean. I think it’s safe to say that you are above the mean. And for that I am proud. But what I am more proud of is the stories we inevitably hear about your character.

At some point during the conference I always ask, “How is he doing socially?” I ask this because I want to know how you relate to your peers. I want to know how you treat others. I want to know that not only are you a good student but that you are living the values your mother and I have worked hard to instill.

Last year, your teacher told us the following story. “I sat TheMonk next to a boy who is on the spectrum. This boy had a habit of doing his work and checking TheMonk’s work to compare his to your son’s work. After a while I could tell that TheMonk was bothered by this. He is such a good rule follower that it was visibly bothering him that the boy was looking at his work. After a while, I decided to move TheMonk so that he wouldn’t be stressed about this anymore. Now, even though he sits at another table, whenever he finishes his work, he walks over to the boy that used to stress him out and checks in with him to see if he needs help.”

That story, Monkey, brings tears of pride to my eye just thinking about it. You have a heart of gold and you are filled with a kindness that I pray never diminishes. And then, today, your teacher and I spoke about a boy in your class who you have mentioned at home. This boy is a selective mute and does not speak at school. No one at your school has heard him speak. I asked your teacher about this boy and I could tell that she was very moved by this boy who has gone through “terrible things.” As she told us of this boy who does not talk I thought back to your stories about this boy and how you play with him at recess. “We played superheroes today and Joseph* played too. His superpower was superhuman strength.” I asked you how you knew what his superpower was. “I just went up to him and asked him what he wanted his superpower to be and then I started listing possible powers until he nodded yes.”

You shared this so matter of fact. And as I learned that this boy has had “terrible things” happen to him it made me tear up again at how much your friendship must mean to him. You give him a voice, son. You tell him that he matters. And while you probably don’t realize the true impact your friendship means to a boy who chooses not to speak, I gave you an extra kiss tonight at bed and I told you how proud I am of you.

Your teacher is right. You are a great test taker. You’re kicking ass in the test of life.

(* not his real name)

November 3, 2012

Just like his dad

He is seven going on eighteen. The speed in which he is growing up continues to amaze me. The little hands that used to seem so fragile against my own are now big enough to throw a baseball and hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete at the same time.

And as he continues to grow, both physically and emotionally, I keep trying to remind myself that I am not only watching a child grow, I’m helping a boy grow into a man. I am keenly aware that how I act, what I say, how I say it, will have a lasting effect on who TheMonk becomes.

To this end, I have to say that it’s not easy. I have to practice patience when patience is in low supply. I have to listen when I’d rather tell. I have to give time, even when time is short.

I also need to remember that I am his father. I have to discipline when I’d rather look the other way. I have to say no when I’d really like to say yes. I have to teach that there are consequences to poor choices – even when I could easily shield him from the consequences.

And finally, I have to show him what it’s like to live freely. To love openly. To take risks when the reward can be great. To be honest, respectful, and caring. In short, I have show him the kind of man I want to be.

Only time will tell if I’m successful. But time is short and this is the one time where patience can’t be had. I hope that one day, he’ll look back on his childhood and recognize that his dad sure loved him. And that maybe being like his dad isn’t such a bad thing.

June 12, 2012

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Seven years.

I can’t believe it’s been seven years.  It seems like I’ve always known you.  The sound of your laughs, the way you speak, the smell of your skin during a goodnight kiss.  All of this is you and before there was you doesn’t even resonate with me anymore.

I am incredibly proud of both of you.  Swee’Pea, you really hit your stride this year in school.  You read at almost a sixth grade level and, socially, you blossomed into someone who makes good friends.  Monk, you loved first grade.  Your teacher was the perfect teacher for you and you soaked up school.  Your math and analytical skills are amazing and your love of Junie B. Jones is unmatched.

But I can’t believe it’s been seven years.  Just yesterday, you were snuggling in my arms.  Just yesterday, I was watching you take your first steps.  Just yesterday, you were clinging to my legs on your first day of preschool.  Just yesterday, you weren’t seven.

And now you are.  You are the most wonderful seven-year-olds the world has ever seen. You radiate joy and revel in the world around you.  You believe in magic.  You believe in fairies and Santa and the Easter bunny too.  I hope, in some way, you will always continue to believe what precocious little seven-year-olds believe.

But I also hope that you’ll slow this ride down just a bit.  Seven years.  It seems like yesterday.

Seven Years Old
Happy Birthday to my beautiful kids

May 20, 2012

She’s got his back

Swee’Pea and TheMonk get to buy lunch at the school cafeteria one time a week.  It’s our favorite day of the week because they get to choose what they want at the cafeteria and I don’t have to make lunches.  It’s a win-win.

A little more than week ago, on a Friday, Swee’Pea and TheMonk came home from school and I asked them what they had for lunch that day.  Swee’Pea excitedly rattled off her choice of pizza, salad, orange slices and, for dessert, a frozen orange juice fruit bar.  This last item is considered a dessert and all other items must be eaten before eating the fruit bar.  This rule, I imagine, is rarely enforced because the kids self-report that they ate everything to get their juice bar.  With this in mind, I asked TheMonk what he ate.  With a dejected look on his little face, he explained that he chose pizza, carrots and spicy pickles.  “But the pickles were too spicy so I didn’t eat them and I couldn’t get my fruit bar.”

Fast forward a few days later and I ask Swee’Pea and TheMonk which day they want to buy lunch.  Swee’Pea votes for Wednesday.  TheMonk votes for Friday.  I tell them, “I’m not going to make one lunch so you two need to talk it out.  Explain your reasoning on why you want the day you want.”

Swee’Pea goes first.  “I want to buy lunch on Wednesday because it’s “brunch for lunch” and we get pancakes.”  This is a compelling argument and I expect TheMonk to readily agree with his sister.  Who would turn down pancakes?!

TheMonk, however, isn’t swayed.  He looks up at both his sister and I and he simply says, “I want my popsicle.”

Swee’Pea, bless her heart, without missing a beat, says.  “Okay.  Friday.”

May 1, 2012

Potty Mouth, Katy Perry

TheMonk is in his usual spot on the couch. It’s the spot that has a power strip hanging over the side that he has his iPod plugged into. The iPod, on this day, is plugged into travel speakers and he listens to his music while singing along.

TheMonk mimics his current favorite, Carrie Underwood’s Jesus Take the Wheel, perfectly hitting the high notes with his young, prepubescent voice. I am not paying too close attention as he sings but I am aware that he is, as ever, ensconced in the music.

I vaguely sense that the song has changed and before a few moments have passed, I recognize Katy Perry’s voice singing on the iPod. TheMonk and I make eye contact and he looks at me with the seriousness of a straight and narrow six-year-old and says, “Daddy. Katy Perry says a bad word in this song.”

Immediately my mind races to the catalog of Katy Perry songs that I have indexed in my brain. Last Friday Night jumps to the front and I begin to race through the lyrics in my head looking for the bad word that that hussy Katy Perry surely uttered.

But TheMonk beat me to it. “She says, Daddy, SHUT UP.”

The seriousness and somber tone that TheMonk delivers this sad news is difficult to replicate in the written word but suffice it to say that we had to pause for a moment of reflection and silence. When I make eye contact again I realize that the boy is expecting me to say something.

“Oh, right. ‘Shut up’ is very rude to say, isn’t it?” I ask, hoping that the reverent tone in my voice adequately matches the expectations of TheMonk. It seems to as he solemnly nods and turns back to his music. By this time, the music has changed again.

Ah, Taylor Swift, where have you been?

April 13, 2012

Substance Over Style

It’s Friday. Which means the favorite clothes have been worn and the kids are reduced to bargaining with their dad over what they can and cannot wear. Normally, this back and forth is with Swee’Pea. I have often said that I could hand TheMonk a garbage bag with holes for arms and a head and he’d put it on with no argument.

But not today.

It’s threatening rain here in paradise – so our normal shorts and t-shirt attire is out of the question. Unfortunately, the entire week has been a bit chilly and TheMonk has worn all of his pants. I am skeptical when he tells me he has no pants left so I check his drawer. Sure enough, there is one pair of jeans in the drawer.

I pull the stylishly faded jeans out and hand them to TheMonk. “But Daddy,” he says. “I don’t like those jeans. When I put them on, they squeeze my booty too much.”

Upon closer inspection, I realize that these jeans, bought with love by Grandmother, are tapered and would probably fall into the “skinny jean” category of fashion.

“Okay, Buddy.” I laugh. “Lets dig some jeans out of the hamper to wear. I don’t want your booty to be squeezed.”

Now let’s just hope he doesn’t learn of the sagging jean trend. Then I’m really in trouble.

January 23, 2012

Hats off to you, my son

You asked me for a hat to keep your head warm. It seemed a silly request considering that we live in warm, sunny San Diego but it’s been cold in the mornings lately (low 40′s!) and your little ears and head were feeling the brunt of the cold on our morning walks to the bus stop.

On my lunch break the other day, I stopped off at the local store and picked you and your sister up a knit hat for a whopping $4.01. Bargain. I was excited to bring it to you and you were equally excited to receive it. The first night, you slept with it on your cute little head and it was evident you were excited to wear your hat to school.

As I returned home from work after your first day at school with your new hat, I was eager to find out how the day had went. It was then that I received some news that made me hurt for you.

You tell me, “Some girls in my class made fun of my hat today, Daddy.”

I can see the sadness in your face and that you are struggling with the conflict between the love of your hat and the acceptance of your peers. I give you a hug and as I pull away I ask you if this made you sad. You nod yes with solemn eyes and I pull you close again, searching for a way to take away the hurt.

As I hold you in an embrace, I whisper into your ear, “Buddy, the important thing is that you love the hat. These girls are being mean and if you don’t wear this hat tomorrow to school, you are letting these girls – these haters – you are letting them win. It doesn’t matter what they think, buddy. We don’t make decisions based on what others think, okay?”

You pull away again and you nod. I’m not sure my talk has sunk in but we leave it be for the rest of the night. As I walk you to the bus the next morning, you carry the hat in your hand and I’m still unsure what you will do. As the bus comes, I lean down to give you a longer hug than usual and I whisper in your ear, “Don’t let the haters win.”

With that, you smile and turn to board the bus. As you walk on and find your seat I can see you sitting with your sister and your best friend. And as the bus pulls away I notice something that makes me smile.

You’re wearing the hat.

New Hats

December 24, 2011

Jingle Bells, The Baby Smells…

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your holiday season be filled with love, friendship and lots of chocolate. From our family, to yours, have a very happy holiday.

I used to write a blog
About Swee’Pea & TheMonk
But then came #3
And now they’re in a funk, Boo Hoo Hoo
But Santa’s on his way
So we are being good
We tell Santa we love our sis
We’re just misunderstood!
Oh, Jingle Bells, The Baby Smells
But she’s here to stay
She only sleeps, eats and poops
But we love her anyway, hey!
At least three times a week
The baby cries at night
I haven’t slept a full 8 hours
And now I’m quite a sight
But they say this soon shall pass
When she’s not quite so new
Yes I’m tired, but it’s ok
At least it isn’t two!

October 17, 2011

The Tooth Fairy Giveth…

Tonight, unexpectedly, TheMonk lost a tooth while being a little too aggressive while brushing his teeth. His jubilation was such that the blood spewing from his mouth did not seem to faze him one bit. Why was he psyched? The frickin’ Tooth Fairy, of course.

Now I’ve come a long way since the early days of Tooth Fairy visits. I learned to stock up on trinkets and little candies and, for some reason, I had a large collection of Sacagawea dollars that seem to be the perfect Tooth Fairy gift. I was ready for a barrage of lost teeth and Swee’Pea and TheMonk were only too happy to oblige. They have lost 12-14 teeth (including TheMonk’s phantom tooth) in the past year and I knew I was running low on supplies – especially those damn Sacagawea dollars.

So this tooth caught me off guard.

And what does a guy Tooth Fairy do when he’s unexpectedly called to duty and has no shiny coin (nor a crisp dollar bill) in sight? He does what you would do if you were in this situation. You’d sneak a Sacagawea dollar out of his sister’s piggy bank when she wasn’t looking.

Yes you would. Don’t deny it.

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