CHRISTMASTIME

 

The pre-Christmas frenzy with children must be what it feels like to Steph Curry when he steps onto the court: so many points to score so little time. The kids would circle virtually everything in the holiday catalog to add to their Christmas list, “Uh, kids, do you really want this solid oak humidifier and four horsepower mower-weed whacker combo from Sears?”

 

In our house the hysteria started right after Halloween and lasted until December 26. Somehow Election Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving did not garner the same respect. In a very real sense, it was a wondrous time. The anticipation, the suspense, the questions, the lists of sizes, styles and colors; they always managed to bring a smile and trigger musings about my own childhood.

 

SANTA’S SOLUTION

 

One of my favorite parts was the forethought and complexity that demystified the Santa Claus mystique. “Daddy, you know how Sana Claws comes in ‘cause we don’t have any fireplace he lands the reindeer and stuff on the roof and Rudolph comes down and opens up the big window in the living room then Sana grabs the resents jumps on a rope and flys into the house. That’s how Daddy.” His younger brothers looked on with fascination wondering how long it would take before they could solve these perplexing riddles.

 

My wife, God bless her soul, tried to teach the boys about the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, how he came to save us, the shepherds in the fields, the wise men…

First child: “Mommy, didn’t the wiser guys bring presents? I’ll bet they brought Jesus Monopoly Junior.”

Second child: “Yeah, or maybe a castle and some castle guys…”

First child: “Let’s look through the catalog again?”

Second child: “Yeah, thanks Mom.”

 

It was a valiant effort just the same, but spiritual enlightenment was a little out of the reach of a three and four-year-old.

 

REDWOOD

 

Everything was unveiled at this age, as if for the very first time. And I suppose they did not remember too many things from their previous Christmas celebrations, so it was all new to them.

 

  • Picking out the tree: You would think this should be an incredibly happy, handholding, Walton’s Mountain kind of event. Yet in my family it could turn into an ordeal. “That is just not right,” my wife states inspecting tree #248, located in the third Christmas tree farm we have visited that morning. By this point the boys would begin to gnaw on the tree bark they were so hungry and then my wife found it. It was always an impressive Spruce, very full without a bare spot in any direction. Then I would pull out my trusty saw, and discover why no one had touched it. The circumference of the trunk looks like a redwood. “We can’t cut this one down,” I inform my wife, “I am sure it is a national landmark; it has got to be 200 years old.” I would saw for the next forty-eight minutes. It took a forklift and the entire tree farm staff to hoist it on our van. Sweaty and numb, I would drive home.
  • Tree in stand: The act of transporting the tree into the home is not fit for family fare. Some of the expletives the tree and I shared should be kept between man and nature. It would not have been so bad if the boys hadn’t been trying to swing on the branches while I was securing it in the stand.
  • Decorating said tree: The actual decorating goes much more smoothly. There was some concern about which child hung more ornaments than the other, but upon further review, if you took the seven broken ones into account, it was about even. It is always a trip down memory lane to pull out the old ornaments and decorations. Although with the children it usually was condensed to a run down memory alley. They don’t have time for the stories. They want to get back to the hanging part and see how far up the ladder they can get before we notice.
  • Outside decorations: Once again my wife is the superior parent when it comes to involving the boys and giving them tasks they could accomplish. In my defense, though, I was on the roof hanging lights while she was putting garland around our front yard. So, while they were inside drinking cocoa and speculating about Sana, I was trying to reach the corner of the house without moving the laddahhhhhhhhhhhhh. “I’m all right!”
  • Presents: The first rule is you can’t touch the presents under the tree. Let me say first off, if that rule had been enforced there would have been an empty tree come Christmas Day. Picking up, shaking, standing on, tugging, tossing was all part of the pre-Christmas process. Sometimes they even did that to their own presents.
  • Gifts from them: This was the best! “Dad can I have tape.” Off they went to wrap their crayon in about three feet of Christmas wrap utilizing one and a half rolls of tape and enough ribbon to wrap a two door Mercedes. There it sat under the tree for three weeks, the biggest present of the bunch and best of all, it was for Daddy.
  • Christmas (early) morning: It happened as early as 5:02am and as late as 5:17am. Of course, this made it very easy to attend the early services. They came barreling into the bedroom, blanket in one hand, Pooh Bear under the other. They dragged you out to the tree to see that yes, Santa had eaten their cookie and taken the carrot to Rudolph. The frenzy began as they dove into the presents like rugby players jumping into a scrum. They stopped only long enough to ask if there were anymore. The day was pretty much nonstop with brief interludes for worship and eating. At the end of the day, they would lay in their bed exhausted, sleeping with their favorite new board game under the pillow, and ask that simple question, “How long ’til next Christmas?”

 

THE END OF THE INNOCENCE

 

I could see the trepidation in his eyes, and, for the first time, I could do nothing to alleviate it. He knew it and I knew it. It wasn’t preschool where I could just take him home if he was having an off day…or a rough tee-ball practice when I could give him a treat…or a trip to the park ending in a scraped knee that always felt better after one of daddy’s milk shakes…I could offer little comfort today. This was the beginning of Reality 101 (inasmuch as a parochial kindergarten can be reality).

 

Somehow, I felt this was tougher on me than on him. He did not comprehend the realities that begin with school: homework, 17 years in the classroom, teachers, bullies, the wonders of the universe, computers, painting, art, science, math, history, camaraderie, girls, crushes, crossing guards, recess, lunch, field trips, and everything in between.

 

ADVENTURE TIME

 

To him it was the beginning of a new adventure, as it should be. To me it was the end of an era. Our direct daily dominion was now being supplanted by a myriad of outside influences, all of which were out of our control.

 

As my wife and I lay in bed before the boys awoke that morning, she traced our oldest sons six years of life by recounting brief memory shards. Focusing on the highlights, wonders and joys inextricably connected with that first child. I marveled at the love in her recollections and I visualized each moment as she described it.

 

MEMORIES

 

As he climbed into bed with us before his first day of kindergarten, the innocence that comes with the initial half dozen years of life was beautifully reflected in his eyes. As he put on his school uniform, so painfully similar to the one I had donned for eight years, I flashed-back to a hundred different grammar school memories, a few of them were even positive! Hopefully his experiences would be better.

 

As we approached the school my son spotted some of his friends from preschool and they chatted excitedly about the new path on which they were about to embark. I looked around at the other parents, all looking around at the other parents, and the realization of this new journey struck like a fastball to the gut. The teacher made a very subtle overture for the parents to leave, “I need all the parents to please leave the classroom!” But being the product of a rebellious youth, we ignored her.

 

DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU

 

“Please now, say goodbye, we need to begin our day,” the teacher tried again. Photos were taken, hugs exchanged, and we made our way out the door. As the parents all shuffled down the stairs, I told my wife I was going back in for one final pat. My son patted me on the hand and assured me everything would be all right.

 

I could see the trepidation in my wife’s eyes, and I could do nothing to alleviate it. It was time for our son to begin a new facet in his very young life. But the remembrances of his first six years will live forever in our hearts, replaying like a favorite old film offering comfort and joy.

 

PLAY BALL?

 

Coaching my boys Tee-Ball team is one of the best things I have done as a parent to date.  For those of you not up to speed on this sport sweeping the post-toddler set, it is baseball with the ball placed firmly on a stand at the child’s waist level.  The child takes a bat and tries to hit it as far as he can.  Sometimes the tee will make it to the pitcher’s mound!  Other times they will make contact with the ball which is even more exciting since that is the object of the game.  Hank Greenwald, one of my favorite broadcasters, used to say, “You can come out to the ballpark and see something new every day.”  Truer words were never spoken than at the tee-ball level.

 

The time I spent with eleven kids under the age of seven was very satisfying, and remarkably entertaining.  Mind you, I am to coaching what the NHL is to etiquette, but my emphasis was on fun and teamwork which appeared to satisfy all involved.  Except for some of my fellow coaches, that is.

 

IT’S A GAME

 

This is one of the kid’s first exposures to team sports, if not sports in general.  I was pleased if I could get them to find first base, throw the ball forward and put the glove on the correct hand (“Remember, not the hand you throw with”).  Yet, some of the other coaches thought they were teaching them how to focus and win games.  Win games, you don’t even keep score in tee-ball! 

We played against one team who actually had a chant every time one of my players was up to bat.  I looked at the kids on this team and they did not seem to be having much fun.  Maybe I am off base on this (pun intended), but there will be plenty of times in their life for competition and bearing down for an achievable goal, tee-ball is just not one of them.

 

ROGUE BAT!

 

I remember in the second game of the season, I was given a new player who stood just slightly higher than the tee.  He was assigned the coveted fielding position of mid-second-shortstop.  In his first at bat he dribbled the ball up the third baseline.  A little unclear on the concept, he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run.  No one on the other team interfered with his mission for fear they would get clocked by the bat. 

 

I am confident that the other coach, already holding a low opinion of me, felt I was very ineffectual as an instructor, and you know what, I could care less.  My kids were having fun, I knew that much, and the parents did not have any complaints. 

 

In practice they were learning some rudimentary baseball skills (very basic, such as, “This is the ball, you catch the ball with your glove, it goes on your hand”) and how to play as a team, and respect other players.  To me those were lofty goals for a two-and-a-half-month season.  I made sure that the parents knew where I stood right from the start in my coaching philosophy, and I was pleased to see they all appeared to feel the same way.

 

NO GROIN INJURIES

 

I am sure I encountered a myriad of situations that Bruce Bochy never has, but I also did not have to deal with high priced players and hamstring pulls.   Loose teeth, yes; donuts after the game, certainly; potty breaks, undoubtedly; but kid durham did not involve a single groin injury.

 

If you get this opportunity, I have three words for you, jump at it!  But utilize the opportunity to educate them on teamwork and the fundamentals of the game.  By fundamentals I mean, “This is a bat.  This is a mitt.  Try not to get them confused.”  Take the time to enjoy the kids, their enthusiasm and childishness.  Who better to act like a child than a five-year-old?  Don’t get into the competitive thing with kids at this age.  They will have the rest of their lives to worry about being first.

 

As time goes on, I hope my boys will excel in some sport, if that is their choice.  I feel they all have the skills and the potential to be very athletic.  I plan to encourage this, but not force it upon them, and especially not at the ripe old age of five.

 

Editors note: No groins were injured during the writing of this blog.

…he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run