Friday, September 28, 2012

Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Gained

            I have a long history of missed opportunities at Yankee Stadium. There was that game against the Royals that my brother and I decided to skip back in 1996, only to miss a walk-off, two-run homer by Darryl Strawberry. There was the playoff game against the Mariners in 2001, when I landed tickets only to fall ill the day of the game and miss it entirely, including a home run by my favorite player, Bernie Williams.
There was the game against the Red Sox back in 1993, when my friend Stew and I drove to Yankee Stadium to see then-Red Sox stars Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs take on the Yankees only to realize when we got there that Stew’s automatic car window wouldn’t close on the driver’s side. He said there was no way he was leaving his car window open in a city parking lot, so we drove home.             And, to top it all, there was that Billy Joel concert at the Stadium back in 1990, when Amy and I had field-level seats but got caught in so much traffic that we arrived in time for the second encore. We stood on the field and sang along to the final three songs.
            When you go to events, you’re bound to miss some things. I obviously have. But I don’t get to Yankee Stadium as much anymore, so there’s not much room for any regrets. If I go to a game, I stay until the end and enjoy every minute. That was the plan last weekend, when I went to the big ballpark in the Bronx with my family.
            My mother had a tough summer health-wise, and we’re all thrilled that she’s feeling much better. So we decided to celebrate her birthday with a game at the Stadium. We arrived in our upper-deck seats behind home plate in time for the Saturday matinee, with six of us excited to watch the game together – my mom, my brother, my wife, our two girls, and myself.
            By the time the first inning had ended, the game was one hour old. The Yankees held a 3-2 lead in this sloppy contest, and our younger daughter was already wondering when the game would be over. But the girls settled down and started to enjoy the details of this ballpark, from the foul poles to the flags atop the stadium to the groundskeepers dancing to the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” Unfortunately, the Yankees and their opponent, the Oakland A’s, had not come ready to play their best baseball, and they dragged a 5-5 tie into extra innings.
            Our oldest daughter got caught up in the excitement of the late-innings drama, and we hung in there through 12 innings. When the 13th inning began, we’d been in Yankee Stadium for five and a half hours. Everyone was hungry, and the girls were restless. By the time we’d made our way down to the lower level, the A’s had started the 13th inning with three home runs, taking a 9-5 lead and sending us out of the park with no regrets. True, the Yankees would have last licks in the bottom of the 13th, but we had seen enough for one day.
            We took the D train downtown, and got off on West 4th Street to stop for dinner before driving home. As we walked toward the Italian restaurant we’d chosen for dinner, I passed another restaurant that had its windows wide open on this beautiful evening. As I glanced at the tables and diners to my left, I noticed a wide-screen TV behind them. And on that TV, I saw a live shot of Yankee Stadium. Atop that image was a score: A’s 9, Yankees 9.
            Say what? My mouth dropped. I turned to my mom and told her what I’d seen. She called out to the others, who found another restaurant window in time to stand on the sidewalk and watch the Yankees score yet another run in the 14th inning to win by a score of 10-9. We stood beside a man who’d left the game himself, back in the eighth inning, and he shared high-fives with us after the winning run crossed home plate.
So yes, the Yankees did execute the ultimate comeback while we were cruising along an underground tunnel in Manhattan. And yes, we missed it all. Add it to the list, right?
            But I have to say, I have a different spin on those missed opportunities at age 41. Sure, I wasn’t there to see the end of the game, and it was chaotic and dramatic and wonderful for the home fans. But remember, this day was never really about a baseball game. It was about a family celebrating a birthday, a mother, and good health. The only missed opportunity would have been to not go at all.
            And that’s how it’s always been. The day my brother and I missed the Strawberry home run? We actually spent that afternoon hanging out together at the Jersey Shore. The time I missed that playoff game because I was ill? I got to relax at home with my wife, and she pampered her sick husband. The day that Stew and I missed a game because of his window malfunction? We ended up taking another car to enjoy a nice dinner together that night.
            The Billy Joel concert? Well, that just stunk however you look at it. No silver linings there.
            But last weekend, as the Yankees gathered around home plate to celebrate their win, my family stepped into a fabulous restaurant on Houston Street to cap our day together. The girls had perked up, they were hanging out with their uncle and grandmother, and my mom was telling stories. The pizza arrived at our table, and we dug in hungrily.
            It was a success, however you look at it. There are no regrets about quality time with the people you love. And hey – somehow in the midst of it all, our baseball team had won a ballgame. Go Yankees. Go Mom.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Ring

            In American homes today, it’s nearly impossible to predict the roles that husbands and wives are playing in each family dynamic. With so many adults either working multiple jobs, struggling to find work or staying home while their spouse works, traditional roles are out the window. In our family, Amy works two jobs, while I teach full-time and dabble in tutoring and free-lance writing on the side. So when it comes to things like cooking, cleaning and shopping, the work gets done by whoever is around to do it.
            Yesterday, Amy had an open house for her real estate job, and I was home with our daughters. The girls were playing with a neighborhood friend, so I took advantage of the time to do about eight loads of laundry, unload and reload the dishwasher, and clean whatever couldn’t fit in the dishwasher by hand.
            After Amy came home from work, it was time to put on some jeans and clean myself up a bit. It was, after all, our anniversary. The babysitter was coming by 7:30, so we hoped to get two or three hours to ourselves.
            As I washed my hands before leaving, I interlocked my fingers to lather them with soap and immediately felt something different. The nerve endings spread to the brain which brought out the panic and the words: “Where’s my ring?”
            I looked at my left ring finger. It was not there. The thin, gold-and-platinum wedding band, which I had worn every day of my life since September 16, 1995, was not on my finger. I checked with Amy, to see if she had played a trick on me, and she assured me she had not.
            So where was it? And why was this happening on our anniversary, of all days?
            My immediate instinct was that I had not been missing the ring for long. After all, I noticed it so quickly when washing my hands. But I am, after all, 41 years old now, and therefore I am starting to lose my mind ever so gradually. So Amy and I rewound our weekend. Could I have lost it while swimming at the gym on Friday? No, because Amy had a photo of me and the girls while apple-picking on Saturday, and, when she zoomed in on my left hand, you could see the ring.
What else had I done this weekend? Not much, actually, aside from cleaning house, washing the car, going to church and heading out for a run. Had it slipped off in the soapy water while cleaning the car? We checked the driveway, and found nothing. Was it in the sink where I’d been washing cups and glasses? Nope. Had it come off in the pockets of the new jeans Amy had bought for me? No, it hadn’t. Had I dropped it in the offering plate at church? No, we do electronic giving.
By this time, the babysitter had arrived, and we had to go. So Amy and I went out to eat, to celebrate 17 years of marriage, with only one of us wearing the wedding band that symbolizes this commitment. We had a great dinner and talked about other things, but every once in awhile I’d blurt out another possibility, asking, “Do you think it could have come off there?”
After we arrived home, we decided to choose sleep over more ring-searching. But when I woke up, I knew what was next: the garbage. I found an old pail, put a fresh bag around it, and proceeded to take everything out of the bag I had tossed in the trash can the night before. It took about 40 minutes, and it was awful – a rotisserie chicken, mac and cheese, week-old guacamole, mushy cereal, and dozens of soiled paper towels, napkins and wipes – all of which I unfolded and checked deliberately.
No ring.
By this time, the flies were swarming, and my hands stunk something awful. So after cleaning up the garage, I headed straight into the shower. Afterward, I walked into our bedroom to grab some clothes. As I pulled out a pair of underwear from my dresser, I heard a metal object fly across the room. It then began rolling along the hardwood before falling to the ground beneath Amy’s dresser. I got down on my knees, reached for the ring, and put it on my finger. At this point I thanked God.
I know this is the part of the story where you’re expecting me to put it all together, and tell you what it means that my wedding band was nestled comfortably atop of a pair of black and gray boxer briefs that I had shoved into a full dresser drawer after folding that eighth load of laundry on Sunday – just before going in to wash my hands.
But I’m sorry; I don’t know what to say. All I can tell you is that yes, 17 years is a long time. And yes, there are a lot of days in which it feels like our marriage is simply one of chores and errands and begging our children to do what we ask. A whirl of wedlock, where the last thing anyone’s thinking about is gold and platinum.
And yet, even without that piece of metal, I did go out with my wife last night. As we’ve done ever since we started dating, we hunted out a great pizzeria – one that served us locally grown mushrooms and onions along with mozzarella and parmesan cheese on our pie. It was so good. And we sat across from each other, eating and talking and looking into the eyes of our life’s partner.
That part, of course, was there all along. You can symbolize it in whatever way you want – through a ring, a pizza, a load of laundry or 40 minutes of garbage-sifting. It ain’t always pretty, it’s far too hectic and it will never be predictable. But I will take it, every day. I know, after all, who put that ring on my finger. And so long as her hand is in mine, we’ll be all right.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Daddy, Seriously

            I was vacuuming. She was in the shower. I propped open the bathroom door for a moment to quickly sweep the tiled floor with the vacuum.
            At this point, the 7-year-old poked her head out from behind the shower curtain.
            “Daddy, seriously,” she said. “I’m taking a shower in here and I want some peace!”
            I stared ahead, looking into the eyes of this child I helped bring into the world, and I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. She ducked back behind the curtain, merrily applying conditioner to her hair. I closed the door, shaking my head with wonder.
            My girls are changing before my eyes. There was a time when they wanted me around them all the time – to read to them, to play make-believe school with them, to dance with them. Now my girls, who are 10 and 7, are more content watching TV, fiddling with their iTouches, or playing around with makeup. A few days ago, they took the tissues out of every Kleenex box in the house and turned the boxes into two pairs of make-believe ice skates. We have a giant stack of tissues in the living room, and torn pieces of cardboard all over the floor.
            “For the past 10 years,” I told my older one the other day, “I believe I’ve been a great father. But I am honestly not sure how to parent you right now.”
            Katie, the 10-year-old, is leading this change. She, after all, is the one who’s genuinely entering a new life stage. Her pre-pubescent hormones are leading her to all kinds of emotions and moods, and I am quickly learning that I need to pick my battles. I also need to understand that privacy is becoming more important to her, and that’s not necessarily a problem. Chelsea, the younger one, is more or less tagging along. She’s still just a little one, but she’s not going to let Katie enter this sassy phase alone.
            I have thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters, and have embraced everything from the princess movies to the baby dolls to the boy bands. But right now, I could really use a little guy who wants to have a catch in the backyard. I could use a LEGO Star Wars video game, or a burping contest.
All summer long, their infatuation was with an Australian show about teenage mermaids. They watched and taped the show every day, then reenacted scenes from it with each other. They used their Flip video cameras to create mermaid stories. They stared up at the moon to see if it would turn them into mermaids. They made plans for mermaid Halloween costumes.
After letting them watch back-to-back episodes of the show, I’d ask them to stop. They’d whine and ask for more. I’d put my foot down. The battle was on, and eventually they’d give up. Then, a few minutes later, I’d hear something upstairs. Yes, they’d turned on Katie’s computer, logged onto YouTube, and found another episode of the show.
Mom and Dad have their work cut out for them. And remember, Katie is only 10. There are many more adventures ahead. But I think this is a lot more than my kids copping an attitude; they are, after all, always wonderfully behaved in public. They do care deeply about their family members and friends. They do, eventually, clean their rooms. And they still love to tell and listen to stories.
I think this new life stage that Katie is entering (with Chelsea in tow) requires some adjustments from Dad. I’ve got to come at things from a different perspective now, and parent my 10-year-old with an eye toward making sure that I’m the kind of dad she wants to come to with problems when she’s 16 or 17. If it means I sit down and watch some mermaid TV, or pop upstairs to watch them dance for a while, then so be it. If it means we negotiate over the iTouch play time, or they clean their rooms once a month instead of once a week, then so be it. If it means I bend a little on some rules, only to clarify which ones are non-negotiable, then so be it.
A few days ago, we were walking through a wooded path toward a gorgeous, rocky beach in Plymouth, Mass. We were with our dear friends, and had spent a lovely weekend with them. As we walked and chatted, Katie took one of my hands, and Chelsea took the other. It was only for a couple of minutes that they both held on, but it was enough.
Enough to remind this father that he’s still relevant. Still needed. Still loved. Daddy, seriously – that stuff doesn’t change.