Thursday, October 28, 2010

Soccer Days

It's October and it's been raining for almost a week. I love the rain, but not in the fall, not when days are supposed to grow gradually colder and shorter, slowly easing us into voluntary hibernation, not when the leaves haven't even turned yet and the the World Series isn't over. I guess I just love the rain when it's expected, and not when my shoes suck and my giant, Gust Buster umbrella is at my brother's house.

When I picked Carrie up from school today she was in a better mood than she's been in all week. She shared some the highlights, vented the lowlights, and asked me how my day was. It had been seven hours, but I struggled to remember what I'd done with all that time. I felt honest saying, "It was a good day," but drew a blank when I tried to fill in some of the details.

When I was in high school I used to watch our varsity soccer team play. There was a kid named Mike Something-or-other who played striker and was always the fastest guy on the field. He would race easily past the opposing defenders, and our excited cheers from the sidelines went something like, "Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, awwwwww," because what he had in speed and stamina he completely lacked in skill. Mike's effort would invariably end with him cursing himself after kicking the ball out-of-bounds or directly to their goalie. By the end of the game he was often bent over with exhaustion with absolutely nothing to show for it.

That's kind of what my day felt like.

So, I now call them "Soccer Days" - those days that take a lot of work with very little to show for it. There was no vacuuming or laundry done, no videos made or projects completed. There were no milestones reached or words spoken, no unforgettable memories of cuteness. Well, maybe some - but mostly it was just a day of putting one foot in front of another with small goals as simple as returning the videos, dropping off the mail, or trying not to let poop get on the diaper changing station. I did manage to return the videos...

Amari and I began the day at the Calverts for her regular dose of beat down. Amari continues to grow more assertive with Hunter, but Hunter also continues to hit her even in the face of loud "No's" from both Jim and me. Today I experimented by putting him in lock down after he hit Amari. I sat him in my lab, wrapped my arms around him, and wouldn't let him move. Within thirty seconds, however, he was squirming and crying and yelling, "CPS, CPS," so I released him. I'm at a loss about what to do with Hunter's aggression. I like that Amari is defending herself, but I don't like that she's taking on his behaviors. Perhaps this is just something that all toddlers go through and pretty soon Amari will be putting the hurt on some other poor, unsuspecting kid.

After that, the day gets a little blurry. Amari ate, pooped, napped, and played. Grannie C relieved me for an hour so I could get some exercise and then I'm pretty sure there was more eating, pooping, and crying after that.

The cool thing that happened last night and today is that Amari learned to play the kazoo. No complete songs yet, but she's got the pentatonic scale down perfectly. She continues to say "Bah" for everything food related, crawls rather than walks, and prefers to have me carry her rather than do either of those things.  She is clingy/securely attached, whiny/expressive, and no matter how much she does either, I happily oblige, pick her up to my hip and doing my best to figure out what she wants.

Amari after not meeting the diaper station goal

Monday, October 25, 2010

Giants Win National League Pennant, Carrie Takes Home MVP (Most Valuable Parent)

In a season coined as "Torture" by long-time, local broadcaster, Duane Kuiper, the San Francisco Giants continued their improbable playoff run by defeating the heavily-favored, two-time defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS to make the third World Series appearance in franchise history.  On Saturday morning, Amari and I hit the road to catch Game 6 in Philadelphia, but unfortunately, due to a (very) late start and bad weather, we had to resort to Plan B. If you have five minutes, enjoy this video of our adventure. And Vamos Gigantes. If you like feel-good stories, you'll love the San Francisco Giants. And if you like feel-good movies, you should enjoy this...

It's been a month now since I took my leave from work and became a full-time stay-at-home dad. The first couple of weeks were a little turbulent - just normal transition stuff. Carrie suddenly felt like a second-class citizen, while I went through some severe adult conversation withdrawal. As we settled into our new roles, however, we began to feel great about our decision. Things are less stressful now because we aren't both spreading ourselves thin trying to be employees, parents, and homemakers. We now have a clear division of labor. Carrie busts her ass at work to make a living and I bust mine to make sure she just gets unadulterated Amari-time when she gets home. 

Meanwhile, Amari makes both of our jobs worth it.

Since Friday's first steps, Amari has shied away from walking, probably deciding that crawling is both more efficient and less painful and awkward. At least once a day we'll stand her between us and encourage her to practice a few steps back and forth. She generally likes it until she doesn't, and she lets us know when she's done by lifting her feet into the air or letting her knees buckle when we prop her up. More than once I've wondered, "How do single parents get their kids to practice?" until this afternoon when I tried pointing Amari towards the couch and letting her stumble clumsily into the soft cushions. Success. "Ah-hah," I thought, "Necessity is the mother of invention." My Nerf furniture idea may catch on after all.

Carrie has been home all week for what the local schools call their "Fall Break," and it couldn't have come at a better time. Now that I've worked in education I know that the abundance of weeks and three-day weekends littered throughout the year are designed perfectly to keep teachers from teetering over the brink of insanity. As an English teacher, Carrie's dance along that ledge is tenuous at times, but she never ceases to amaze. She puts a ton of energy into her job and still finds the patience and compassion to soothe her tired and toothy daughter when she's home. She is super-mom. As a tribute to her, I've prepared another video - a montage of moments she's shared with Amari.

Tomorrow - more about Amari. For now, enjoy this picture of her levitating in a flower bed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Before and...

I woke up this morning and realized that I'm thirty-nine and a half years old today. I know - I sound like I'm in pre-school, which incidentally, I also resemble when I boast my height as five six and three-quarters. I have a hard time believing I'm almost forty - except when I look in the mirror...or step on a scale...or try to climb a flight of stairs too quickly. Even though I've grown fatter, grayer, and slower through the years, on the inside I still feel like I'm about 13 to 25, occasionally 10 or 11 when I'm hanging out with Noah.

Amari, on the other hand, is just about to complete her first year. I remember when I would mark every week with a sentimental entry about how big or cute or challenging she was. Now I know I was only scratching the surface. Although the week-a-versaries have ceased to be celebrated, it's not for lack of wonder, pride, and awe. The more interesting Amari becomes (and the less she naps), the less I seem to write.

I spent the better part of the last two nights combining pictures of Amari from our two computers onto Carrie's laptop. I finished up just before midnight and found myself looking through the file titled November, 2009. There were pictures of Carrie and I walking around Lake Cleon, Carrie in her second day of labor, and I innocently naive of what that really means having her pose patiently while I set the self-timer or asked her to move left or right so I could get a better shot. Then there were pictures of Amari, precious and little, swaddled and sleeping, floating colorfully in clothes much too large. What an amazing year it has been.

To think, less than twelve months ago, our charming, fickle, demanding, delightful, personality-filled daughter was a six-pound eight ounce sleep-poop-eat-cry machine. Needless to say, much like tonight, I stayed up way too late.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Seven Small Steps for Amari and One Giants Leap for Anyone Who Cares

Three amazing things happened this week, culminating this afternoon in what may have been my first prophecy since predicting that the Commodore 64 would not survive as the all-time best-selling computer.

1. Ross Leads Giants into NLDS

The San Francisco Giants, who clinched the National League West on the last day of a 162 game season to make their first playoff appearance in seven years, proceeded to win their division series in convincing albeit dramatic fashion three games to one over the wild card, Atlanta Braves.

After winning the opener in San Francisco behind an historic, record-breaking, fourteen strike out performance by two-time defending Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, the Giants blew a four run lead in the second game losing 5-4 and handing the home field advantage over to the Braves. Games three and four were also won in late-inning, come-from-behind fashion, only this time it was the Giants who silenced the Native American chants of 50,000 rich, white Georgians.

The hero once again was everyone's favorite eleven month-old rookie, Amari B Fishman (as Cody Ross), greeted by her teammates after hitting the game-tying home run in the decisive fourth game.

2. Braves Lead Cox Into Post-Mortum Retirement

This was going to be its own blog entry on my other site, but now it's about as current as Bobby Cox's driver's license. The Atlanta Braves were one of several surprise stories in the National League this year, using a combination of pitching and youth to earn a wild-card playoff birth in long-time manager Bobby Cox's final season.

Less publicized was the fact that Bobby Cox actually died just over five years ago after the Braves streak of fourteen consecutive National League East division titles was snapped by the upstart Mets in 2005. Reluctant to let Cox go, Braves owner Ted Turner used all of his extensive resources to keep his manager as life-like as possible four the next five seasons. Early on, the embalming, the internal cryogenic technology, and Turner Robotics, Inc. technology used stunning advancements to keep Cox's death a secret from players, fans, and media. As seen below, they would often have Cox strike poses that looked both vital and held promise for longevity. Eventually, however, the inevitability of the dying process caught up with Cox, Turner, and the Atlanta Braves.

In all seriousness, when Eric Hinske hit the go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning of game three and the Atlanta dugout went nuts, Cox just sat there motionless until a bench coach came over and, for the benefit of the national television cameras, held Cox's hand up for a celebratory fist-bump.

Farewell, Bobby. Congrats on making fourteen straight post-seasons and only winning one World Series. Way to rule a dormant division.

Amari Leads Parents Into Frightening Unknown Future

When Carrie went back to work last February one of her biggest worries was that she would miss Amari's upcoming milestones. For the next four months we expected to pick her up from Nicole, Susan, or Grannie C with the news, "Oh yeah, she crawled," or "By the way, she said thesaurus today." Fortuitously, on the last day of school, about an hour after Carrie got home, Amari took her first real crawl forward. It was perfect. We spent the rest of the summer as a family watching Amari master her environment as quickly as we rearranged it.

In August, as Carrie was preparing to go back to school, I joked that Amari would probably wait until the fall break to take her first steps. Now I wish I'd joked that I'd be out of debt and have a full head of hair again by the fall break, because yesterday afternoon, the Friday before the break - about an hour after Carrie got home from work - Amari clumsily took her first steps. Again it was perfect, and for the next twenty minutes or so Carrie, Siobhan, and I led Amari back and forth and let her take unassisted steps until she crouched or flopped down onto her butt. I think she managed about seven before she became exhausted and a little frustrated.

It was awesome. We all applauded and giggled and Amari smiled and shrieked. Even though we now have to reevaluate the safety of everything in our house below two and a half feet, it was definitely one of the coolest moments I've experienced as a dad.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Friends and Baby Aikido

As parents, I believe we are always playing catch-up - the ever-expanding "To Do" list. Carrie and I promised to complete Amari's baby book last summer when we both had time off. That promise was amended to "completed by her first birthday," which undoubtedly will be amended to "started by Christmas...New Year's...etc." We'll probably end up leaving it to her in a will - whoever dies last, that is.

In her first eleven months of life, Amari has two friends she sees on a regular basis - Reya and Hunter. And by friends I mean toddlers who like to beat on her and take her metaphorical lunch money. Amari still adores them, loves their visits, and is slowly cultivating her own methods of dealing with them.

Reya is two and a half and fully immersed in the Freudian "Mine" stage of development. Whether she is at home or away, Reya will peruse her surroundings and collect the toys that she wants to carry around with her - often but not limited to something that has Amari's interest. By the end of a visit Reya, arms full of toys and books, looks like Navin R. Johnson in "The Jerk" wandering around his mansion after he learns that he is going to lose everything in a class-action lawsuit against his multi-million dollar invention, the Opti-Grab. "I don't need any of this stuff," proclaims Johnson, "I don't need you or any of this...I need this (grabbing his remote control), but that's all, just this lamp, this remote control, and that's all I need...I need this," and so on.

Reya also likes to poke and hit, but she appears to be growing out of it thanks to her parents and her recent adventures in pre-school. Hunter, on the other hand, is only just beginning. On recent visits to the Calverts, Papa Jim and I have spent a good chunk of our time catching Hunter just before he is about to whack Amari with his hand or some small to medium throw-able toy. Hunter is also a taker, snatching toys away from Amari and putting them far out of reach with his advanced walking capabilities. Hunter appears to be getting better the more time he spends with Amari, but he is also getting sneakier, sometimes crawling innocently by her before turning to grab her hair or wonk her on the head.

Amari is months and years behind her friends, so although we may see these stages soon, for now she appears to be more of a pacifist with perhaps an edge of passive aggression. Instead of taking things, she offers toys to Reya or Hunter and then pulls them away at the last second with an implied, "Psych." After dinner on Friday, however, Amari tried a new, very entertaining trick. When Hunter tried to grab the remote from her, she held on tightly. When Hunter pulled harder, she let go and Hunter pulled the remote square into his face with a loud whack followed by a stunned look and a round of loud laughter from surrounding adults.

That has now been dubbed Baby Aikido, using your opponents strengths against them. Well done, Amari-san. Well, done. That'll teach Hunter to offend your honor.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Journey Not the Destination

A little over a decade ago, my friend Noah and I began a long-distance writing project that essentially had us e-mailing our personal journal entries to each other. Over the course of the next eight years we accumulated thousands of pages of personal stories, inside jokes, philosophical rants, and dreams of our futures. At the time we lived on opposite coasts in opposite situations, but through our writing we discovered that we had similar dreams of having families, working with kids, becoming neighbors, and most importantly, finding a way to make a ton of money with very little effort. At the time we were both terminally single, could barely take care of ourselves let alone a family, and neither of our jobs were nearly rewarding enough to make them a career. 

Ten years later, Noah and I live in the same community, we have wonderful wives and beautiful children, and until recently we both worked in education. Noah moved from New York in 2004, coached high school basketball with me, fell in love, stuck around, and made a life for himself. Now he's an athletic director, a husband, and a father. I fell in love, too, went back to school, became a counselor, returned to the coast, stuck around, and made a life and family for myself, too. It's amazing how much we created through sharing our dreams and finding a way to realize them. 

Unfortunately, we haven't been quite as successful at finding that high reward job situation. And I don't just mean that "If you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life" crap, because I did love my job, but it was still work. Every day. What Noah and I were looking for was something more along the lines of getting paid for just being ourselves. We considered converting our thousands of journal pages into a screenplay about two guys growing up through their individual and shared experiences, but quickly realized that nobody finds us nearly as interesting or entertaining as we do. We explored other book ideas - a Harry Potter spoof that someone else ended up writing two years later, a self-help book that would climb the bestsellers list because of its amazing title(i.e "Lose Weight, Make Money, Have Sex," or "The Four Disagreements"), or a Greek myth based on the Star Wars trilogy that actually had me watching episodes IV through VI with a notepad and a case of wine and calling it "research." Where is that damn notepad?

So where am I going with all of this? I don't know. I just felt like I needed to pay tribute to Noah for being the person I write to when I'm writing. Really writing. Effortlessly. When I changed the direction of this blog a few weeks ago, I did it for a few reasons - to increase traffic to my site, to build a fan base, and to make a few dollars along the way. I did all of those things - with the added bonus of pissing off a few thousand people - but what I rediscovered along the way was even more valuable. My writing voice. The voice I cultivated through days and months and years of writing to a person I trust, respect, and love unconditionally. Even though he's a Yankees fan.

I still have a dream of publishing a novel, a children's book, or even a self-help book on how to be a parent and not lose your mind and your sense of identity. Or better yet, how to accept that those things are going to happen and deal with it.

I keep meaning to write a catch-up blog on what's been going on with Amari since I went all Hollywood last month, but then things like baseball and nostalgic friendships get in the way. Suffice it to say that being a dad continues to exceed any expectations I ever had. It's not always easy, but it's always worth it. We may not have money, but our lives are indescribably rich.

G'night, Skipper.

Reya and Nicole

Carrie and Amari

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Giants Win the West With Youthful Pitching

Greetings Everyone. Fresh from a sabbatical to the playground known as the Internet, I have returned just in time celebrate the San Franciso Giants first division title since 2003. In a roller coaster season whose team has been "torture" to both its fans and its players, the Giants prevailed on the final day of the season, defeating the second place Padres to secure the National League West crown.

In the words of Jeremy Affeldt, "It was awesome." The Giants came into the series with a three game lead over the Padres and needed to win just one game in the series. The Padres have had the Giants' number all year, and the first two games were no exception. By Sunday they had trimmed the Giants' lead to just one game. In the end, pitching and timely hitting finally came together as the Giants blanked the Padres 3-0.

In all honesty, I was a confident and happy fan on Friday, but by Sunday morning I was irritable and discontent. I worried that the impossible might happen and that the agonizing years of waiting for the post-season would continue. At one o'clock sharp I next door with Grannie C, nervously chewing on pistachios, and feeling my pulse in my throat with every pitch. Not only was I fan of the team, but I had a vested interest in the rookie pitcher starting the game. Unlike me, Amari was as calm as ever, effortlessly throwing five shutout innings and ultimately earning the victory in the most important game of her young career. 
Amari B Dominates the Padres

The Padres couldn't figure her out. They were patient as ever at the plate, earned a few walks, but Amari always managed to pitch her way out of the jams. She also hit a triple and scored the game's first run. During the post-game champagne celebration, when Mike Krukow asked her to describe the feeling of carrying this team into the post-season, Amari calmly replied, "Bah," then tried to grab his tie and chew on it. 

In reality, Amari sat calmly on the floor at Granny C's, kissing dogs and and being occasionally frightened by loud cheers and illy performed high fives. Towards the end of the game, she was used to both and even offered her own round of applause when Buster Posey gave the Giants an insurance run in the eighth. When Brian Wilson pitched the final strike, tying Rob Nen's record of forty-nine save, Amari was fast asleep in my arms, preventing me from doing the very silly happy dance I'd been planning for the past seven years. As the Giants celebrated on the infield, a flicker of a smile crossed Amari's lips, and I can only imagine what she must have been dreaming...
G'night everyone...and Go Giants.