Karma may be a bitch, but she’s a funny one

CIMG7347The dude is working this summer as a counselor at a baseball camp. He’s coaching the five and six-year-old boys along with another high school friend.  His first day went well. On the ride home he was full of parenting wisdom.

“It’s all about the C’s, Mom. Calm, Consequences, Consistent, and Carry Through.”

“I see.” It’s not that he’s wrong, mind you. His theory is valid. I’m just amused that he thinks he invented it.

“You have to tell them what behavior you expect, and what will happen if a they don’t comply.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“You calmly give them a warning, and if they do it again, they sit out their turn at bat. They hate missing their turn at bat,” he says.

“I expect they do.” I’m not sure if the Dude remembers that I managed the dugout on his first tee ball team. I made them sit it batting order. If they got up, they lost their place. It was the only way to keep some semblance of order. At least at six they don’t eat sunflower seeds. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the dugout otherwise. I think they like the spitting more than the seeds.

“And when I want them to listen, I do the quiet coyote.” He makes a shadow puppet of a dog with his hand, opening and closing his fingers. “You see, quiet coyote. Mouths shut.”

“Have you ever heard a coyote, Dude? They howl. They used to hang out in the forest preserve behind our apartment in California. It would have been more quiet to have a frat house back there. “

“It works, Mom.” He’s offended by my lack of faith.

“I’m glad to hear it. Maybe you’re some sort of child whisperer.”

“That sounds seriously creepy Mom.” He’s right, it does.

The next day when I pick him up, he looks a little haggard. He’s also a half hour late. I’m not mad, because I know exactly what has happened. The first day the parents are always on time. The second day, they drop them off a little earlier, and pick them up a little later. By the end of the week, I suspect I’ll be waiting in the parking lot for quite a while. It’s okay, I bring my Kindle.

“The last Mom was so late! I thought she’d never get here.” I don’t say anything, because once or twice, I’ve been that Mom. Not often, but I try to cut the unknown mother some slack.

“Her kid is SO obnoxious. He yells, and he’s always right, even if he’s wrong. He’s like ‘but he’s out’ and I’m like, ‘but you have to tag the runner, and he’s like ‘but I touched the base,” and I’m like ‘he doesn’t have to advance if there’s no runner behind him, so you have to tag him when he’s not on a safe square.” The Dude alternates a high pitched whine with his calm, C-master voice.

“Did you show him the quiet coyote, Obi-wan?” He gives me the look. “I’m just asking.”

I hate to tell him the minute the third kid showed up he and his friend were already outnumbered. I tell him that it will get better. I neglect to mention that next week it will be a whole new batch of kids and he’ll start at ground zero again. I’m proud of him for having a job in the first place. I’m counting on it. I need new material.

“It’s still the best job ever, but it’s only Tuesday. I reserve the right to vent.” I nod and smile at him. He smiles back. It’s silent for a moment as he contemplates the day.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Dude.”

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you.”

“Consider it Karma.” He doesn’t say it, but I know he’s thinking that Karma’s a bitch, but he’s not sure if I’ll think it’s funny if he says it. I do, but I’m glad he doesn’t say it anyway. It means he still cares about my feelings. For the mother of a sixteen-year old, that’s a triumph on its own.

“Just don’t write about the really embarrassing stuff.”

You can count on me dude. I’m one quiet coyote.

Words and pictures by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Along the Fence” © 2012

Take me out to the ball game, a.k.a. Red Sox, suck it up and get it done.

I usually write about parenting, writing, and the scrambled thicket of life. Not today. Today, I write about baseball.

I love baseball. When I listen to a game on the radio, I remember lavender skies that never seemed dark enough at bedtime. I think of nights so hot that a sheet was too much to bear. I’d listen to Ernie Harwell call the game, and the cool timbre of his voice would be enough to lull me to sleep. I hear the hum of my Dad’s mower, and smell the clean grass and watch a cloud of crickets rise with each step forward.

Growing up in Detroit, I knew the heartache of rooting for a team that was great, then bad, then good, then really bad.  When my son was young, we lived in Boston, in a time before the curse was broken once and then again for good measure. It was like I was meant to be a Sox fan. Watching the games together reminded me of everything I love about the sport. See the picture? That’s my basement wall. I painted it myself.

The last two summers it’s been hard to be a Sox fan.  It’s not that they are losing, although it’s definitely not fun to watch your team suck week after week.  It’s that they are no longer the team that I love.  They’ve become one of those big budget monolith teams that buy what they want in a cycle of endless name brand players who never live up to their hype. They’re sort of like the Yankees, only under .500.

I used to know every player in the roster. They had distinct personalities. The game had character.  I’ve been turning off the games, not so much because we’re losing, but because I’m bored, and I can’t believe I’m saying that. I’ve defended my love of baseball to everyone else who says they can’t stand it because it’s dull.

So here’s my plea to the players. Stop blaming it on the management, and the owners and the press. Sure, they aren’t helping. They aren’t making good decisions. But they pay you, they don’t own you. Your attitude is yours and yours alone. You get millions to play a game you supposedly love.  Could you at least look happy to be there?

Not feeling it? Join the rest of the world. We learn to fake it. You can too. Better yet, don’t, or give your job to someone who can’t wait to get in that uniform. I’m sure there’s a line. This is what the rest of us hear every single day–there’s a line forming right behind you to take your job. And we hustle to get it done. We put aside the fact that the dude in the next office is a mouth-breathing idiot, and that the woman in finance will make me run my numbers again, even though I know they are right.

You won Sunday’s game, and I still turned it off, because it was painful to watch. I read the stories about missing Pesky’s funeral, the fight with management, and the big trade with the Dodgers. Are you done with the drama? You get the big foam finger from me, and it doesn’t say “We’re number one.”

I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. You and I both know the season is over for you. I will still watch and root for you if you make it worth my while.  I don’t care if you win. I care if you care. If you do, then I will. Capice?  I may throw like a girl, but I root like a beer-soaked dude, so bring it on, and I’ll make the hot dogs. Let’s have some fun out there, okay?

I am not wasting my money. You are wasting my money.

When I sent my son to Spanish Immersion camp, I expected him to be miserable.  It’s part of the camp experience.  I knew he’d complain about the heat, the lack of free time, some other child that bugs the crap out of him and how he hates the food.  He does that every year.  What I didn’t expect was for him to say that he’s bored and that the classes are too easy. According to him, he falls asleep regularly, and trades quips with his roommate at the back of the room.  He finishes the work too quickly, but the answers are correct, so the teacher gives him more work. Not harder work. Just more work.

He complained. “You sent me to this camp so I would learn Spanish. You’re wasting your money.” I give him credit for being smart about it. Complaining about the petty stuff wouldn’t move his heartless parents. Money and principles? We’re all ears.

My husband and I talked to the program director to get the rest of the story. He had talked to my son and his teacher and reviewed his work. He felt that our son was on the high side of the range of students for the class, but not strong enough to leap up to the next level. He needed to stay where he was.

Any class will have  a range of  student performance, we countered. How do you keep the more advanced kids moving forward?

He was very diplomatic. “We hope that the older, more experienced students will step up into roles of leadership with the other children. Engaging in projects within a leadership role requires a more extensive use of vocabulary. He could be doing more. By speaking more, and interacting more, he’ll become more facile with the language.”

Oh.

What a polite way of telling me that my son would be less bored if he spent less time snoozing and griping in the back, and step up to the plate. Or to put it simply, you get out of it, what you put into it.

I am not as polite as the camp director. So my dear son, I am not wasting my money, you are wasting my money.

Before I start docking X-box time, however, I have to look in the mirror. How often have I done the same? How often do I complain about a situation when my time and energy would be better served fixing it? How often would I rather be right and miserable than happy? My son has a vested interest in proving to us that we never should have sent him to camp to begin with so that we never, ever, do it again. We have a vested interest in making sure that he knows he’s accountable for his own experience. We’ve told him this, but it’s time for him to live it.

You can’t sit in the back of your own life and complain. If you don’t like it, change it. If you can’t change it, learn how to make the best of it.  The apple may not fall far from the tree, but that only makes it easier for the tree to whack the apple upside the head.  He’ll thank me some day, when I’m not around to hear it.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Anslatadams

Enforcer of the new reality

I just took my son to camp. He’s going away for four weeks to a Spanish immersion program. He’ll pledge to speak only Spanish at all times, save for a break before dinner where he can call his parents. I don’t expect he’ll be doing that, because at the moment, he hates us.

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, very few families sent their kids to camp. Summer was all about riding bikes and playing flashlight tag and eating bomb pops. Every day was full of possibility, and time was generous. We’d get tanned and healthy and tired out enough to start school again in the fall.  I’d love my son to have that kind of summer.  He’d love that kind of summer.  That kind of summer does not exist anymore.

Summer is about enrichment now. Kids go to computer camps and elite sports camps, or they have second homes where they spend their vacation time. There isn’t an army of children to run around with just outside our door.  If my son had his choice, he’d hole up in the basement and play video games until his clothes sprouted mushrooms. That is not an option.

We’ve avoided the competitive parenting mosh pit for most of his childhood. He hasn’t been overly scheduled and we’ve let him choose the activities that he’s interested in. I would have loved for him to take up music, my husband wishes they could tinker on electronics together, but neither of those is in the cards. He likes sports, but he’s non-competitive. No one plays pick up games anymore, which is a pity. But as he gets closer and closer to college, we’ve started to push.

When I applied for college, if you had good grades a couple of activities, you were golden. Now, colleges want to see Advanced Placement courses, and 4.0+ grade points. They want examples of leadership and commitment.  Above average is the new average, and no one wants an average kid. When did this happen?

My son says he goes to school and does what he’s supposed to. He’s got great grades. He does his homework without prodding or nagging. He’s polite and well-behaved. He’s socially adept. He says that should be enough. He wants to come home and do nothing. He has a point. Unfortunately, we can’t let him do that. Not if we ever want him to move out of the house.

Every summer, he has to do something meaningful. Anything. Spanish is his toughest class, so this is what we settled on.  He participated in the decision. He talked to students who’d been in the program, so he knows what he signed up for, but he doesn’t want to go away for four weeks of his summer.

What I can’t tell him is that I wish he didn’t have to go, too.  Yes, it will be nice to have four weeks to work on my novel and spend time alone with my husband. I may have one of those post-disaster clean up crews come and sanitize his bathroom, but I will also miss him every single day. This is the new reality, and I am the enforcer, so I try not to let the glares and the silence get to me. If he senses any hesitation on my part, he’ll turn screws. I am the weak link and both my husband and son know it.

I didn’t want him going in committed to hating camp just to spite us. I told him that punishing us did not require that he be miserable.  He could go, enjoy himself, take advantage of what the camp had to offer, and just tell me and his father than it was a fate worse than death to preserve his cred.

He told me that when he comes home, he will speak exclusively in Spanish. Guess I better get a translator.  No one said being an enforcer would be easy. However, I did notice quite a few girls checking in at the same time we were.  I suspect he did too.  Maybe he won’t be so miserable after all.  That part, he can keep to himself.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Tamara