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Cooperstown

“Heads up!!” We yell, from our fabulous protected viewing area, shielded from both the hot midday sun and fly balls. Immediately, all the siblings dash out to be the one to retrieve it. Within minutes my middle son is back having secured the treasure. “I gave it to Olivia,” he tells me with a shrug. “I got so many.”

“That’s nice,” I smile. With captured balls spilling from his duffle bag he can afford to be generous.

It is day six at the Cooperstown Dream Park, a tournament culminating my oldest son’s little league experience, where his team (and coaches) along with over a hundred others, stay on the compound in barracks for the total baseball ‘experience’ while my younger boys and I, along with the other families and siblings get a slightly different ‘experience’ at a nearby $69 a night hotel charging $250.

I turn my attention back to the game but it’s hard to watch. Our scrappy town team has made an impressive showing this week but this game is sloppy and all signs point down, especially the big one looming over the field showing us in need of five runs.

“We’re losing!” My youngest states matter of fact, in much the same way he announced the game before that we were winning. Either way doesn’t matter to him, he has more important issues to discuss. “Can I have money for a snack?” He asks with a sly grin.

I shush him, intent on my boy up at plate. The count is 3-2, and he has fouled off two balls already. He postures like a threat; his energy palpable. I wonder if he can see with his overgrown hair. “Smash it,” I whisper to myself and him over and over.  And he does; hard, high and to the left. “Heads up!!” We all scream again to any unknowing passersby, and the littles, including my snack seeking son, scamper to retrieve the foul.

At the plate, my son gives the bat a test swing and a little twirl while my stare burns a hole in his helmet. He locks and loads and this time drives the ball hard between second and third, getting on base. I breathe, cheer and toss the stress over to the next mom.

This has been a week of damn good baseball. We watched our boys’ rise to challenges, swell with confidence and leave the field with their feet ten feet off the ground, although compared with many of the other players who dwarfed our boys by length, width and facial hair, it may not be so easily noticed.

There have been homeruns (and near homeruns – mere inches!!) that catapulted us from our seats; catches to the wall that drew our breath, seamless plays that made us grin wildly and nod to each other with pride and a merry go round of pitching that gave every player the opportunity to buy the “I pitched at Cooperstown’ tee shirt.

There have also been hits and bangs, broken fingers and broken spirits, slaps to the head for both the amazing and the devastating, great coaching and mentoring that exceeds the expected; knowing just when a kid needs a pat on the back or a kick in the butt, and allowing each boy the opportunity to feel proud and important and really experience the best in themselves.

Even on days like today, where the negativity buzzed around the dugout like flies and we beat no one but ourselves, when it is over any stray tears will be lost as they run, dive and barrel over each other like puppies in the dirt.

These times, like these boys, are so fleeting and these days are the ones to remember. We will look back on the laundry, the sun and bugs, the wine and the whining, the strategizing for the games and the schlepping to get there. We will remember these families who have become like family of our own and these boys with the balls in their gloves and the glimmer in their eyes, their swagger and innocence and the arms around each other’s shoulders and we will long for it all.

Heads up boys, we win.

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#Go Legends

About Face

They pound into the backseat like an explosion, popping with energy, youth and hormones and the car heaves with the extra weight. I give a small smile in greeting but then concentrate on the road. I am just the driver. My job is to not say a word, suck in as much information as possible and deposit them at their destination without calling any attention to myself.

It’s hard when all I want to do is stare at them, at their maturing faces and expressions, but of course that would be weird so I just stare straight ahead wondering about these almost unrecognizable creatures who I have known for years.

I sneak glimpses through the rear view mirror at the angular lines and skin dotted with the blemishes. They are morphing into new people every day, every second. I want to study them and find the little boys who I remember. Where did the curvy cheeks and smooth skin go?  The sticky smiles? The Hot Wheels and Pokemon cards? But really, where did the years go?

My son sits in the front seat next to me and keeps me in line, changing the radio to a more preferred station, giving me a stern nod when I start singing along. That is not on the list of things moms are allowed to do. I comply, of course. I want to be allowed to chauffer them places. I want to get to know them as they are now, these little boy men.

I arrive at the chosen house of hangout and watch them shoot out like firecrackers. They remember to thank me politely and I know their mothers would be proud. My own boy jerks his head to the left, momentarily tossing his surfer long hair off of his golden eyes to give me a sideways glance and a shy smile. “Bye, mama.”

Oh that face. I wish I could preserve it, set it in stone, hide it away in my heart and in my house and never have anything change. He is so beautiful and I know he will grow and become a handsome young man like they all are, but I have just this moment become desperate to stop time and hold on to this boy. I’ve already lost the baby who nuzzled me, the sweet kid who clung to me, and soon I will lose this face as well.

It’s almost too much but life forces me to accept that. Because I know that while I can capture a moment, I can’t capture my boy. He will grow and change. He will rise and fall. He will love me and leave me. And all I can do is sit back and be grateful that I’m along for the ride.

I love this boy!!!!

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My baby turns 13 this month. Puh Puh Puh. I love this face. I love this boy. Always.

This face has my heart, no matter what it looks like. Always. Happy almost 13 baby.

Striking out (with Dad)

He didn’t hobble toward ball field number two; he shoved his walker with purpose. Even tilted, he looked pretty good; eyes alert, dress casual and passably clean, disposition aloof but present. After three weeks in New York and countless years fantasizing about it, he finally felt well enough to make one of my boys’ baseball games.

“You gotta swing when it’s 3 and 2, kid!” he yelled at some boy I didn’t know, garnering a dirty look from some boy’s father.

I grimaced. “Dad, maybe keep your enthusiasm for the members of our family, please.”

He smiled,” clearly amused by himself. “Yeah, that guy didn’t appreciate my comment.”

This was the best I had seen my father in a long time and I tried without much success to appreciate the moment.

These last weeks have been enormously stressful. Applications for disability, transportation services and a downstairs unit had to be filled out, the right doctors found, Medicaid benefits approved to secure home health aides, visiting nurses and blah blah blah. We stand at the foot of a mountain of paper work, details and calls not returned.

But by far the biggest challenge is him.

He accidentally flooded the woman’s apartment below him by letting his sink overrun. Then he accidentally did it again. He accidentally pulled the emergency cord in the bathroom. He was confrontational with the nurse practitioner who came to help set up his medications. He didn’t go down to let in another NP.

Never ending, exhausting conversations saturate every space between the dramas. Pep him up, talk him down, find reasons for him to live. Be the happy voice, the scolding voice, the voice of reason. Even thinking about it makes my throat constrict.

Yet right now, he seems okay – his glassy eyes light as he watches the game, my other boys shyly stand near him and engage, he abandons his walker to hold on to the fence.

“Nice catch!” He yells to my son then turns to me, “Do you see the way he throws? He’s got confidence.”

I nod, glad that after weeks passed out in his chair, he’s found his voice and it’s not angry or miserable. It’s cheering.

Maybe we’ve turned a corner. Maybe it’ll be alright.

I allow just the smallest, tiniest, most miniscule molecule of hope to slip in, although at this point I don’t know how it’s even possible. Hope is a sneaky bastard.

The next morning social services call. They had just seen my father and found him extremely agitated and hostile with pills scattered everywhere. They regret to inform me that “mobile crisis” has been alerted and are on the way.

Maybe this is where it ends. Maybe it’s for the best.

At least he made it to a game.

My happy cage

hopeless

Drive of Shame

I had never been to the girl’s house and crept down the street squinting at addresses. 37… 34… Close. Close… The numbers were partially obscured but I heard youthful noise so I pulled into the driveway then immediately hit the brakes. At least 9 cats lounged on the blacktop. Not one of them even flicked a whisker, and after a moment staring me down, resumed the important business of licking themselves and stretching out in the sun.

Amused, I zigzagged through them toward the back of the house, but found nothing but manicured grass and empty lounges. The voices were coming from next door. I turned to go back to my car and almost ran right into a pissed off woman.

“What were you doing in my yard?” She accused.

“I’m, um, picking up my son but uh wrong house,” I stammered and pointed next door where the sounds of merriment lifted into the air like music notes. “Sorry.”

I received an extremely skeptical look. Jeez. Did people regularly walk into her yard? Did she think I was animal control?

I was still giggling when I walked into the next yard and saw my son, his friends and a bunch of girls in shorts and bikinis running around an empty blue pool, circling each other in a fascinating mix of confidence and insecurity.

They all stopped their pubescent frolicking at my interruption but only briefly, like I was the most uninteresting person in the world. The boys gave me a cursory smile or wave; my own son the most standoffish among them. I think I heard a cat yawn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “I’m picking up you, you and you.” I pointed at three boys who each looked at the guy next to him.

A quick huddle ensued and my son was sent over to break the bad news.

“So um, listen,” he started, giving me his sweetest smile, “Don’t feel bad or anything but we’re going to wait for Sawyer’s mom,”

“What?” I said, “Why? I’m here.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” he soothed, putting his arm around me and walking me out while the bikinis and boys who grew up on my lawn watched. “She’s on her way. We’re going back to his house anyway.”

“But I can take you there. No problem!” I pleaded a little desperately as he led me to my minivan.

“Thanks, mom. But it’s okay.” He closed my car door and leaned in the window amused, “Don’t feel bad that you’re not the cool mom.” I was about to protest but didn’t get the chance, “And I need some money. We might see a movie.”

“I’m cool,” I pouted, reaching into my sack and handing him $20.”

“Of course you are,” he smiled, pocketing the cash. Then with a hint of boyish bashfulness, he slouch walked back to the yard, behind the fence, to his friends, the bikinis and beyond my reach.

With no one to carpool, I drove off rejected and smiling but still feeling somewhat astray.

I knew I should have taken the Jeep.

Wish that I could be like the cool cats. Like the cool cats...

What are you looking at? I’m a cool cat too! I am! Fine. Whatever.

Pop (Moving dad, part 2)

My father slumps over to the left side of the new recliner. His head and body tilt in a way that looks uncomfortable but still he sleeps. He’ll tell anyone who asks that he prefers unconsciousness rather than deal with the pain he’s in. I wonder about that as I watch him snoring contentedly. Clearly, he suffers. No one who sees him would think otherwise, but the uncertainty lingers whether this former alcoholic and drug addict has found validation for his pharmaceutical dependency with his broken body and spirit. I know I don’t walk in his shoes but it’s hard when he’s tripping over his own feet and landing on my doorstep.

This new move to be closer to his family, which is me, my brother and my mother, his ex-wife of nearly 35 years, has been years in the making and years in the breaking. The two bridges between us allowed him to live somewhat independently and allowed me to somewhat believe that he could. But now that we have crossed over, there’s no going back and there’s no more pretending.

Large windows brighten the living and bedrooms of his new apartment and the scent of fresh paint lingers. There’s a new couch, television and media center. His hoard of books, tapes, papers and the clutter of a million misaligned brain cells have been left back in New Jersey in this hope for a fresh start, this last attempt at happiness. But seeing him lying there half unconscious with the garden burger he fell asleep while eating hanging limp in his hand;  a small clump of mashed grains, corn and peas probably still waiting in his mouth to choke him or be swallowed, it looks to me like the same problem nicer chair.

When my mother and I test drove the dark brown cushy recliner in the store, we giggled as we pushed a button to gently stretch us back while lifting our legs up, immediately luxuriating in relaxation. It was perfect, we assured each other, thinking he’d love it but not realizing he’d barely leave it.

Now only weeks in, it bears the burden of his physical and mental weight; food staining the arm rest, crumbs resting in the crevices, urine dampening the seat. It is as sullied and doomed as this well-meaning but misguided attempt at a new life.

Back home in my office, I wish I could also just push a button, recline and hide in unconsciousness as I shuffle through papers and field calls from doctors and agencies, all trying to help me help him. The process is arduous, tedious and a little maddening but every conversation hopefully gets me closer to securing a doctor or a home health aide or benefits. It is a puzzle with a million pieces and he sits in the center.

Through the window I watch my boys on roller blades, their newest obsession. My 7 year old has discovered some old bubbles on the porch and blows spit at the stick as he skates around like a puppy. Every so often a cluster of bubbles emerge startling him, flying like rainbows through the air. He delights in his creation, beaming with wonder, and his brothers join him, scooting around trying to pop them. The sun shines, the grass is green and I hope their bubbles never burst.

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The United Skates has Fallen and it can’t get up

Well it’s official. It’s not the eighties anymore.

I learned this today on my son’s fourth grade class trip to United Skates.

I, of course, arrived in my spandex leggings and neon pink zip up ready to Rock and Roll All Night, but it’s like none of these children ever spent a Friday night at the local rink circling the track and darting through crisscrossing strobes lights to Let’s Get Crazy by Prince.

10 year old arms and legs flailed all over the place, spinning by like baby giraffes on ice. The kids scrambled around like eggs, then lay on the rink floor beaten. It was hand to your mouth horrifying, in that ‘you can’t believe what you are seeing’ way and I could not. stop. laughing.

I probably won’t be brought back for a class trip any time soon, but all those children flopping every which way, doing unintentional splits, desperately trying to stay upright like cartoon characters on banana peels… It was just too much and too many of them. It was like someone put a slick of oil on a walkway and told 50 kids that there was free ice cream right across the way. Down Down Down they all went. It was total, utter chaos. It was hysterical.

None of the 20 something workers seemed concerned. They just zoomed here and there picking up all the rattled little bodies and sending them happily off to fall again two seconds later.

But the absolute best were these new safety devices they give the kids who can’t skate (Um, pretty much all of them). They are literally walkers on wheels! Seriously, you can’t not be amused by this.

Skating looks verrry different than when I was a kid.

I hear there’s pudding at lunch today, Gertie!

Even though 2015 skating was different than when I was a kid, I was totally in the spirit and considered putting my hair in a side pony tail. I grabbed my son’s hand for a mock ‘couples skate’ moment and he allowed me the pleasure for 3 seconds before pretending I didn’t exist. I threw around the words Super and Awesome a lot, and even once found myself putting them together while dancing around, picking up felled children as I grooved.

“Wow, you’re doing super awesome out there, kid!” I said and gave a wink as he hobbled by with his walker. It was the same kid who once asked me why my house was such a mess, not that I remember things like that.

It was time to go, and from the mouths of the beaten and black and blue (but no broken boned) babes, it was unanimously and without question the best day of fourth grade.

It certainly was for me.

Skate on.

Skate on.

My Seat on the Sidelines

My butt feels like a cold slab of concrete but what do I expect after five hours on hard bleachers. Of course I brought a chair, but early on my 7 year old laid claim to it. Usually I would kick his little butt out and designate him to the blanket on the grass but his two older brothers played in two different baseball tournaments this weekend and I am extra guilty.

“Is it almost over?” he asks from the first inning of the first game to the last inning of the third.

“Almost,” I say, happy, that like a puppy he still distracts easily.

Skittles and pretzel through game one.

Hot dog and Slushie through game two.

Mr. Softee during game three.

As the youngest, it’s his job to join me at these games where his dad coaches and his brothers play because we support each other… and because he has nowhere else to go except where we schlepp him. Nope, life isn’t fair, no one promised him a rose garden and along with the cherries come the pits. Still, I acknowledge that sometimes, especially on the excruciatingly long games, or the cold, drizzly ones, that it sucks for him (and often for me as well) which is why he subsists on a steady stream of guilt foods. It’s disgusting but this is his payment for time served, as well as the cost of my peace of mind.

Our baseball game schedule is obnoxious causing many who don’t engage in youth sports to roll their eyes and sometimes their whole faces. Even myself.

Not that I don’t love watching the boys play. Many days the weather cooperates, the team makes it all look easy, my sons are on their game and every cheer brings me bursts of giddy happiness. But at times it is too much. It’s not just the games and the travel to them. There are the practices, the meetings, the laundry.

Even with all the trips to the snack bar, it’s a lot of sidelining for a 7 year old. Of course he has a bunch of other hostages to help entertain him. Sometimes, they have a catch or stomp up and down the bleachers or sit under them for some shade, ripping pieces of pretzel while they stare at a video game. It’s certainly not the worst way to spend a day.

“Great news,” My husband exclaims on the way home after one son’s episodic tournament of almost champions and the other’s crash and burn fiasco.

I am immediately afraid, sensing a catch.

“They changed the rules for 8U travel,” he booms.

Yup, a catch, and a throw, and possibly a bat to my husband’s head.

He turns around to address our 7 year old, “Hey buddy. You want to play travel ball this summer?”

My son’s eyes light up while mine start the slow rollback. I was sure I had at least one more year. Three boys playing travel means three times the insanity. It means me racing from first to second to third, just dreaming about going home.

I have no idea how I’m going to manage it.

But I do know that I’ll have a chair to sit in.

The newest Legend!

The newest Legend!

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