Friday, July 30, 2010

Take Me Out to the Living Room

Baseball was my first love. My dad grew up in Westwood, California during the fifties and sixties - a time when John Wooden quietly built a basketball dynasty at UCLA, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles., and a little professional basketball team called The Lakers relocated from Minneapolis. As a result, I was a brainwashed northern Californian kid with a blind allegiance to the heroes my dad worshiped.

By the time I was six years old I bled Dodger blue. I collected baseball cards, memorized standings, and dreamed of one day playing or managing or being a radio broadcaster. Sometimes I would turn off the volume on the TV and practice, describing the players, their stats, the tension of the moment, and some inane fact like preferring oatmeal raisin to chocolate chip or owning a rare, endangered animal. I loved everything about baseball - the hats, the shirts, the pace, and the fact that there were successful fat guys like Fernando Valenzuela filling with hope the dreams of chubby kids like me. 

From the age of six to eight I was almost always wearing my blue L.A. hat. My mom would make me take it off at the dinner table and when I went to bed, but as soon as the light was out and she pulled the door closed, the hat came right back out from beneath my pillow and returned to its rightful place on my feathered, Shaun Cassidy hairdo. In the days before free agency and million dollar contracts, teams had a stability and consistency unlike I'd ever experienced. The Dodger infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey stayed together longer and had fewer errors than my parents' relationship.

I have two first game memories - one day game and one at night. The day game was a double header against the hometown Giants at Candlestick park. I was seven years old and my dad bought us tickets in the bleachers - a much more hostile environment than you find at the new Phone Company Park downtown. During the first game, my brother and I watched in fear as the drunk Giants fans tormented a Dodger fan with sunflower seeds and hostilities.  When  my dad bought us Dodger hats he asked permission for us to wear them. Their response: The kids can wear them, but not you. The second game was a cold, windy, night game on my twelfth birthday. I remember three things clearly from that night: the bright lights beaming down onto the infield grass, the electric crowd that cheered, booed, and taunted to no end, and the field sobriety test my dad had to pass on the way home.

Although I'm still a fan of UCLA and the Lakers, in the the wake of the 1989 Bay Bridge Series, I converted and became an avid San Francisco Giants baseball fan. Yesterday, as a belated birthday gift to my fellow convert and mother-in-law who had never been to AT & T park, we drove down to San Francisco to watch the Giants take on the Florida Marlins.

The game started at 12:45, so we hit the road by eight in the morning, picked my brother up in Healdsburg, and made it to the park by a little after one. The older I get, the less interested I am in making a nine hour round trip drive for two to three hour game, especially with things at home like high definition TV, instant replay, comfortable, roomy couches, and a wonderful absence of thirty-five thousand other fans. I'm totally getting old.

By the time we got to our seats at 1:15 it was the bottom of the second inning and the Giants trailed 1-0. The bleachers were packed but the crowd had little to cheer about as the Marlins added two more runs before the Giants got their first hit. Amari looked around the stands, stared a few people down, drank a bottle, and showed very little interest in the game itself. Then it happened, bottom of the fifth inning, and Pablo Sandoval hits a bloop single to center field. The crowd went nuts, the girl right next to us shrieked while everyone else hooped and hollered and cheered. Amari jerked away from me, burst into hysterical tears, and didn't calm down until Carrie walked her around the plaza behind out seats.

After that, I think the Giants were just being conscientious of their new fan, because not a single player got another hit. Final score: Marlins 5, Giants 0. Thank god I didn't purchase tickets to the 10-9 extra-inning thriller the day before. So that was Amari's first baseball game, and probably her last until she has the words to say, "Hell no. I hate baseball." I think she's just a fan pitching duels and soccer scores.

The trucker 'stache is left-over from an encore film by Neil Goldberg coming soon to a blog near you.I'm a method actor. ;)

As we sat in the baseball park that afternoon I remembered all the reasons I love the sport. There's a timeless, paradoxical quality to it. It's simple with complex subtleties. It's slow and redundant with moments of unbearable tension. It's constant and constantly changing. And being there with Amari, I felt like both a father and a child, baseball glove on one hand, baby in the other.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inoculating the Divine

I'm just going to come out and say it - we have the best child ever! And, although they'd be wrong, I sincerely hope every other parent feels exactly the same way. Isn't that the true joy of parenting? Feeling like you finally did something right in the world - something pure and perfect and lovable and free. Something divine.

Thursday afternoon Amari had her third round of vaccinations. They're called boosters, which sounds so positive and energizing, like rocket ship parts and fund raising support groups. Unlike those things in any way whatsoever, booster shots are actually just the same as any other half inch needle being jabbed into the artist formerly known as my happy, carefree daughter.

Before I get into the details of the visit, I would like to go on the record in saying that if we can go from a giant, room-sized "super computer" that functioned like an abacus to today's microscopic, child-friendly   i-Pad in less than seventy years, why can't we find a less traumatic way of inoculating our children? Seriously. The first vaccine was developed in the 18th century and we're still poking infants and toddlers with needles as long as their fingers? Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely pro-vaccine. I don't think it's coincidence or central heating or the relaxing effects of television that has doubled life-expectancy in the last two centuries. I just think it's time for someone to step up and invent the i-Vac or anything tinier, less painful, and just as effective.

Side note

The first vaccine was developed to protect people from smallpox, a lethal virus that has wiped out millions throughout history. Although credit for the vaccine is given to Dr. Edward Jenner, there were others before him who, upon noticing that exposure to cowpox (a less lethal virus) proved to be an inoculation against smallpox, deliberately infected themselves and their families with the cowpox virus. How'd they do it? By scratching open the skin and rubbing in the infected pus. Even that, with the exception of the word pus, sounds better than long, pointy, needles.

Additional side note

Fueled by indignation and a primitive parental need to protect my daughter from all things torturous, I Googled (which I often do when I'm angry and clueless) only to discover that, according to an article dated one week ago, a new skin-patch vaccine with tiny, painless, micro-needles that dissolve into the skin is now being developed. It's about freakin' time.

Back to the Story

So we took Amari in for what I thought was her eight month check up and boosters. Turns out we were supposed to be there two months ago, but it also turns out that it doesn't really matter since Amari didn't get polio or whooping cough or meningitis since May. I felt a little dumb for getting the schedule wrong, but perhaps I was unconsciously protecting Amari from getting her peaceful little world rocked so soon.

After Carla's compulsory poking and prodding and Amari's weigh-in at a robust 18 pounds 7 ounces and 29 inches long, it was time make her cry once again. Carla said one of us could hold her in our lap and I quickly volunteered for two reasons: she wouldn't be able to see my face and I wouldn't be able to see hers. Selfishly clever, don't you think? I wanted absolutely no part of this association. Thirty seconds later, Amari was screaming wriggling in pain, and thirty seconds after that Carrie and I were using the understated and soothing powers of distraction as we walked Amari around the office, pointing at things and saying  "book," "flower," "feminist pregnancy literature," and so on.

That was it. Amari recovered instantly. Her legs swelled  and hardened a bit and she had a mild fever that night, but the next day after a fussy morning learning to crawl on achy legs and a long afternoon nap she was fine. Long story still pretty long, Amari's a trooper. She entertains us endlessly, learns new things every day, and has a much higher tolerance for pain than her dad ever did. I should have known she'd be fine the way she's been handling her teething pain which, by the way, finally resulted in a tooth last week. Hooray! But that's a story for another day.

This is Amari's "I'm dealing with teething pain" face. Pretty cute.

PS I also made a video gift for for my friends and co-parents. Enjoy if you have a free minute or four.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Road 420, Dude

Since summer began three weeks ago, Carrie and I have been taking Amari and anyone else who will join us on epic walks on and around the Mendocino coast. While my dad was visiting last week we covered about fifty miles of trails and coastal roads, soaking up the sun and making the most of our extended family time. While Carrie's all about the destination, I'm more about the journey, so when she charts out our next adventures I just strap on my pedometer and start walking. 

This week the fog rolled in like a vacationing tourist and decided to camp out. After a few days, we were all suffering from cabin fever - much like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" - so Carrie pulled out her handy dandy hiking guide, searched the very useful Inter-Web, and found an extensive network of old logging/fire roads that run inland through Jackson State Forest. If we wanted to, I think we could walk every day for a year and never see the same road twice. 

Yesterday we took a pilot run a little more then 10 miles east of town. We found the described pullout and telltale yellow gate, piled Amari into the jogger, and headed down a steep, bumpy, narrow road. Clearly there hadn't been a fire recently enough to make this enjoyable. About a mile in, the grass began to creep onto the road, while young blackberry bushes rose on either side. I'm definitely going back there in a month to raid the bushes, but without the lure of delicious berries, the road had little merit. Not enough destination for Carrie and far too much journey for me. This is what the road ended up looking like.  

We did decide, however, to start chronicling our walks so we could organize them according to length, points of interest, etc. Anyone else smell another riveting blog?

Today we struck gold. Sort of. The weather on the coast was better, and as the fog began to lift from our home in the sun belt we headed out on another adventure. We parked our car about two miles inland this time - another pullout and another yellow gate - and headed into the woods. The website said this was Road 400, that it stretched for over five miles and met other similarly numbered roads. It said we would come to a bridge approximately four miles in, but also cautioned us strongly that we stay on course and not veer off onto "the endless Road 420." Interestingly, I offer this same caution to my students in middle school. Dude. 

So this hike appeared to have all the elements of exciting Greek myth - an adventure, a hero (Team Fishman), a destination (logging bridge), and even a temptation to avoid (the endless 420). I would have preferred a few sirens, but you take what you can get. When Carrie told me about the logging bridge, images of old, wooden trusses stretching across long forgotten streams danced in my head. I imagined Hobbit homes dug into the sides of the hill with Bilbo and Frodo living in constant fear of the dreaded lumberjack troll. Instead, four miles into the woods, we found this. 

Pretty wild, huh? Fortunately, the long journey to the bridge made the car and the promise of sushi a new and exciting destination. I would also like to note that Carrie's experiment of carrying a piece of fabric softener in her pocket worked to keep the mosquitoes at bay, which is both interesting and useful information if you're as delicious as Carrie. Only one bite appeared the next day. And it was static-free. 

Another thing we discovered on our walk was how handy it would have been to have access to Google, because we stumbled upon some questions ranging from curious to inane. Here are a few that came up.

1. What is this pile of shit we found that looks like a cross between human and horse dung? No picture available?
2. What is this brown snake we found sleeping in the road?

3. What does this facial expression mean?

4. How old is Leonardo DiCaprio? (Pictures available everywhere) 

Evidently, the answers are:

1. I don't know what kind of shit that is.
2. Californian Rubber Boa
3. I don't know what kind of shit that is, either and
4. That's a stupid question. And  it's 35. I don't remember how it came up, but I'm pretty sure I was closer. ;)

So that was our day. I feel like we all fare better when we get out of the house for a while. I wonder all the time how these early experiences, trekking through forests and alongside oceans, is shaping Amari's young mind. I have a fantasy that she will be the outdoorsie type and continue to love being a strolling spectator even when she's ready to walk. I'm constantly impressed by both her mental/emotional stamina and the strength of her neck as her head jostles back and forth, back and forth as the stroller bounced over the rockier parts of the road. The only times she complains is when she's fighting sleep and the terrain isn't being helpful. 

I guess she'll either be outdoorsie or permanently disabled. Here's to hoping it's not the latter. 


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Now Here or Nowhere

I can't keep up anymore. I feel like a kid walking through the Exploratorium for the first time saying, "Oh man, this is the coolest thing ever. No wait - this is the coolest thing ever..." Only now it doesn't take science or illusion  to impress me - just Amari babbling nonsense or pushing a ball across the floor. The other day, when Carrie said, "Hi, Amari," and tilted her head to the side, Amari mirrored the tilt and I was certain I'd never see anything that cute again. The next day she she outdid herself by singing along with me as I played a little tune I wrote called "Ba ba ma ma da da." She's not harmonizing yet, but she's on her way.

When summer break began two weeks ago, I vowed to write more, to capture the tiniest details of Amari's daily changes. I was inspired by an old friend's renewed commitment to writing, her raw honesty, and her funny - sometimes random - daily updates. Check her out if you have time.

I also still cling to the illusion that I can retroactively slow the passage of time by describing it in detail. The theory is: the more I remember, the more I must have lived. The reality is - the longer I live, the faster time appears to move, and there's no slowing it down whatsoever. Also, in order to actually remember, I would also have to go back and read what I wrote. And who the hell has time for that? That being said, I would like to play catch up by writing:

Top Ten Things I Might Forget If I Didn't Write Them Down 

10. Babbling: Also called twaddling, although I'm not sure why. At around seven months Amari began to say things like "Baba, mama, dada." Of course I did some research only to learn that although she may say "Mama" and "Dada," she doesn't equate those things with us. In lieu of her equating us to her words, I proceeded to equate her words to us. During a disagreement between her parents one day, I quickly recruited Amari's all-important tie-breaking vote saying, "Amari, if you agree with your dad, say Baba baba." Carrie argued that the additional "Baba baba" that she added in her response indicated that she was only placating, perhaps even mocking me.

9. Sleeping: This is still an adventure. And by adventure I mean like backpacking through Europe in your twenties with no itinerary or money or aversion to spending nights in train stations. Although timing and duration of naps is inconsistent and sleeping through the night a distant memory, there are two things that I have grown to count on just as Amari drifts off to sleep. First, her left arm will rise and fall in rapid succession as though it alone is the last defense against sleep. When the arm finally submits, her hand reaches up to her hair and begins to pull gently on a tuft of hair as her eye lids finally close.

8. Godzilla: Once Amari got crawling down she started to make destructive noises akin to the Japanese monster making its way through Tokyo. Awesome.

7. Acoustical Engineer: A few days ago I watched Amari crawl from the carpeted living room to the kitchen hardwood making her Godzilla sounds. When she reached the kitchen she looked around, noticing a new resonance to her voice. She looked up at the ceiling, opened her mouth as wide as she could and began growling.

6. Battle of the Amari(e)s Continued:. A follow-up to the blog written on December 13th of last year. Two days ago on Amari B Fishman's eight month birthday, the other Amar'e (Stoudemire - the one Carrie said, "No one knows who that is," when she presented me with this potential name for our daughter) left the Phoenix Suns and signed a five year $100 million dollar contract to play with the New York Knicks.  On the same day, Amari B demonstrated her superior loyalty by continuing to play for team Fishman where she has signed an eighteen year contract extension with an opt-out clause contingent upon college scholarships.

5. Music: Amari loves it. She hammers on her little keyboard to no end while I play guitar, although she prefers to interrupt my playing by grabbing the strings or moving my hand. I'm not sure what she's trying to say. The other night as I pretended to sleep while trying to get her to do the same, the last words out of her mouth were very clearly an attempt to sing herself to sleep. So freakin' sweet.

4. The Magic Poo Chair: This really exists, and is a classic example of something that is a staple in a child's life one minute, then completely obsolete the next. The chair was originally an appliance sent to Granny C's for childcare days. When she reported back-to-back days of giant dumps being taken in said chair, we decided to bring it back home. Within a few days, this seemingly normal, musical, vibrating infant seat adopted the well-deserved title of "Magic Poo Chair." With an almost ninety percent success rate, the soothing sounds, the gurgling bubbles, and the vibrations were like Amari's strong cup of morning Joe.


3. The Backpack: Carrie and I have been taking epic walks since the summer began. We recently discovered a trail that runs from a street near our house down to the ocean. It's a seven mile round trip, but it's ecologically diverse and beautiful. We started in the Pygmy Forest and descended through the redwoods to the ocean. This gave us an opportunity to try out a backpack carrier we'd been given recently. Amari fussed as we strapped and snapped her in, but about fifty feet down the path she was already asleep.

2. The Beach: Amari's look of wonder at the sand and the water, and the excitement of her taking her first steps. That's one of the best things about being a father is reliving the novelty of everything through the eyes of my daughter.

1. Waking Up: It's the best. Amari isn't strung out on coffee or overwhelmed by lists of things to do. She wakes up free and it's contagious. I have a hard time transitioning from work to vacation and back again, but Amari has eased this by reminding me constantly that there is nothing more important in the world than what is right in front of us right this moment. I was recently looking at the word Nowhere and noticing that it is also Now Here. I remember Jack Kornfield saying, "We are either now here or we are nowhere." Amari is my little, portable Buddha.