Out in Left Field

baseball (1)

Baseball has been America’s favorite pastime for more than 150 years, followed closely by gun control debates, reality TV and overeating. There’s just something about sitting in a ballpark surrounded by drunk fans that screams ‘Merica!

The hubbie and I spent a weekend in Phoenix for spring training where teams get together for pre-season games and fans hope for a glimpse of a mega baseball star like Mike Trout or one of the racing sausage mascots from Milwaukee.

As San Francisco Giants fans, we sat in a sea of orange and black, surrounded by men who obviously missed their calling as ESPN baseball announcers. Their color commentary got slurrier and slushier with each beer they drank. It made me wish real ESPN announcers would drink on the job.

Whenever we walk into a ballpark, my husband turns into a 14-year-old boy. The crack of the bat, the smell of a leather glove and the roar of the crowd makes him absolutely giddy.

Hubbie: We’re at a ball game!

Me: I know.

Hubbie: Maybe I’ll catch a foul ball!

Me: Maybe.

Hubbie: Do you think they’ll run out of players and call me up to play?

Me:

Me: You’ve been in the sun too long.

But it’s not just my husband, nearly every man there is reliving childhood dreams of baseball stardom, talking about games they watched with their dads or reminiscing about baseball legends they revered as teens.

I love baseball, but not in the way my husband does. A lot of my experience revolves around food (as most things do). At ball games, I eat food I’d never eat in real life. My 74-ounce Coke and foot-long Bratwurst was an appetizer for my shredded pork nachos, drenched in a fluorescent orange “cheese” stored in plastic buckets in the basement of the stadium. I ate French fries so salty, I actually pooped jerky.

Baseball is about tradition: team loyalty, peanuts, Cracker Jack, not caring if you ever get back, and yelling at the umps after every bad call. The drunker the crowd, the more hilarious the insults. “Can I pet your Seeing-Eye dog after the game, Blue?” “That’s why umpires shouldn’t date players!” “You drop more calls than Verizon!” And so on.

Then there’s the stats. Baseball statisticians use more abbreviations than texting teens. You have your standard 1B, HR, BB, SB, K, L and ERA. But occasionally, a stat will appear on the scoreboard that leaves everyone confused. “What the hell’s a UZR?” slurs a drunk ESPN announcer. We all scratch our heads until someone Googles it. (Ultimate Zone Rating, if you were wondering.)

Each game holds the opportunity to witness an unassisted triple play, a grand slam, a no-hitter, a perfect game or a squirrel being chased off the field by an octogenarian ball boy. Ballparks are national treasures, each one unique and representative of their community.

But my main reason for loving the game is this: baseball is a game of patience. There’s no time limit to a ballgame. It could last 3 hours or 5 hours; 9 innings or 13 innings. As our lives get busier, a ballgame is a reminder to sit in the sunshine, to talk to the person next to you and to order a hot dog without guilt as you root for your favorite team.

All you have to do is sit, eat and cheer someone on. Shouldn’t that be America’s favorite pastime?

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Children Without Borders

freerange
I just learned that when I was a child, my parents were criminals. That’s a lot to take in when you thought your mom and dad were law-abiding citizens—more or less. I had no idea my parents hid a dark side until I heard that parents in Maryland were charged with neglect for letting their kids walk to the park. Alone.
At first, I thought the story was a joke and kept reading for the punchline. Nope. Totally real. A neighbor called the police to report that the children were playing without the required amount of helicopter-parent supervision. Additionally, the nosy neighbor stated, “It wasn’t the first time these children played by themselves.” Gasp.
The siblings were taken by Child Protective Services while the parents were investigated, and (because we have to label everything) the term “free-range parenting” was created. Free-range parenting is defined as, “A new, hands-off approach to raising children.” But other people label it as neglect.
So, if I was so inclined, I could retroactively (and in my mom’s case, posthumously) have my parents thrown in the slammer.
Every Saturday morning, after we finished eating Fruity Pebbles straight from the box while watching “Land of the Lost,” my mom would kick us out of the house and tell us not to come home until sunset. Then she’d slam the door. And lock it.
We were cool with that. We shrugged, hopped on our bikes and went to find something to do. We’d wander through neighborhoods like adolescent Pied Pipers, picking up other unattended children. Then we’d end up in someone’s yard playing Red Rover (aka Clothesline Your Buddies) until those parents told us to get lost.
We’d amble to 7-Eleven where we’d buy candy cigarettes and Fresca (because the can looked like beer). We’d sit on the swings sipping our pretend beer and discuss whatever it is kids discuss in those situations. I’m sure we fooled everyone because doesn’t every 10-year-old sit in the park swigging a cold beer while smoking with her friends?
I guess our parents didn’t think we needed 24-hour supervision. We walked to school every day with a group of friends, rain or shine. And we frequently rode our bikes nearly two miles to the Murray Library with ne’er an adult in sight.
In a time before cell phones, GPS and tracking devices, parents relied on their kids to use common sense. They taught us to avoid strangers, stay off the train tracks, don’t go into homes when the parents weren’t around and, basically, not to be stupid.
My daughters could also have charged me with neglect, and they’ve probably already contacted an attorney. I often allowed them to bike to the local swimming pool and stay there for hours. They also walked to 7-Eleven—and probably bought candy cigarettes with their friends.
People say, “Don’t you know how dangerous the world is?” Guess what? The world has always been dangerous. Helicopter parenting, obsessive worrying and overprotective hovering doesn’t stop bad things from happening.
Here’s my definition of neglect: not allowing your children to create a feeling of independence; not allowing your children to be bored and have to create something; not allowing your kids to make mistakes, get lost, mess up and face consequences.
Kids are resilient, and more often than not, they make the right decision. So I guess I’ll have to forgive my parents for teaching me to be independent and creative. Gee, thanks mom and dad.
Originally published in the West Jordan Journal–http://www.westjordanjournal.com/2015/05/22/72434/children-without-borders

Would You Care To Dance?

In an alternate universe, I’m a prima ballerina. I’m performing jetes and arabesques and other fancy-sounding French words. I’m twirling across the stage in a flowing costume. I’m curtsying to my adoring fans while they toss roses at my feet.

However, in this universe, I’m a . . . what’s the opposite of ballerina? Whatever that is, that’s what I am. I’ve fought a lifelong battle with grace and gravity. My family watches in horror as I ricochet off doorknobs, fumble down stairways and trip on carpets.

I tried really hard to be a dancer. I enrolled in classes when I was 5, and wore pink leotards and white tights, creating some serious panty lines. My mom pulled my long hair into a bun so tight I looked constantly surprised. Every week we’d butcher a series of ballet steps while my dance instructor tried not to handcuff us to the barre. She often sipped from her “dance thermos.”

I’d cut up the Arts section of the newspaper, snipping out photos of Ballet West dancers to glue into my scrapbook. I had ballerina paper dolls, ballerina coloring books and ballerina dreams – but a giraffe-like body with knobby knees that bent in several different directions.

As a child, I went to see “Giselle” at Kingsbury Hall. The ballet is pretty grim. A disguised prince breaks the heart of a peasant girl who kills herself then becomes a ghost who has to dance the prince to death. Dancers are pretty melodramatic.

For weeks after the ballet, I wore tutus that draped toward the floor and floated when I jumped. I channeled Giselle through my 7-year-old body. Picture a little girl evoking the devastation of betrayed love while falling on a sword that ends her life. I’m pretty sure I nailed it.

When I was 12, I was finally able to go en pointe. That’s French for “Standing on the tips of your toes until your toe-knuckles bleed and you’re crippled for weeks, all for the sake of those beautiful satin slippers.”

The purpose of pointe shoes is to give the illusion that ballerinas are weightless wisps, floating gracefully as swans or nymphs or any type of ethereal and doomed young women. In reality, learning to dance en pointe is similar to putting your toes in a vise, then running a marathon. 

But I didn’t give up. I continued to practice daily in the hope I’d channel Anna Pavlova, the acclaimed Russian ballerina who died at the age of 49, probably from gangrene from her pointe shoes.

Because I’m writing this column instead of performing in “Swan Lake,” you can correctly surmise that my ballet career fell flat. I tried out for Ballet West’s “Nutcracker” a couple of times, to no avail, and after years of practice, I hung up my pointe shoes and succumbed to gravity.

I never transformed from gangly giraffe to graceful swan. I never glided across the stage, hoping to lure a young prince to his death. (At least, not as a ballerina.) I never received standing ovations for my role in “Coppelia,” the ballet of a young woman pretending to be a mechanical doll. (Because that makes total sense.)

But. In that alternate universe, I’m soaring, twirling, spinning, leaping and gliding en pointe, hearing the crowd bellow “Brava!” as I take a bow at the edge of the stage. And because in this alternate universe, I’m graceful and lithe, I don’t fall into the orchestra pit.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper–http://davisclipper.com/life/would-you-care-to-dance/

 

Virtual Competition

We all have that one friend whose life could be a Hallmark movie. She spends her days organizing family sing-a-longs, has slow-motion snowball fights, and she snuggles with her family by the fireplace, drinking cocoa and wearing matching pajamas. The Golden Retriever has a matching neckerchief. And the toddler doesn’t spill hot chocolate on the white, plush velvet couch.  

This woman is too amazing to hate. I imagine she cries one beautiful tear that rolls slowly down her cheek as she ponders her incredible existence. The soundtrack to her life would be all violins and cellos.  

My life’s soundtrack is basically a record scratch. 

So how do I know this perfect woman with her perfect hair and her perfect family and her perfect life?  

I follow her on social media. (Stalking is such a harsh word.) 

She posts pictures of her family cheerfully eating dinner that didn’t come from a freezer box, or shares a video as she dances out the door in a slinky red dress that she’s wearing to a charity event where she’ll donate her time to help orphaned goats in Uzbekistan. 

I’ve never owned a slinky red dress. I’ve never saved orphaned goats. 

This woman has a circle of friends that travel to spa retreats and spiritual workshops. I imagine them talking on the phone, laughing at the extraordinary circumstances that allowed them to live on this planet with such good fortune. 

My friends need to ramp up their game. 

Her Instagram feed is an advertisement for excellence. Her children willingly pose for family photos, her redecorated bathroom (that she did for less than $50) is chic and stylish.  

My family photoshoots turn into a fistfight, and my effort at redecorating my bathroom consisted of a sloppy repaint in a color that was supposed to be “seafoam green,” but looks more like “hospital lunchroom.” 

Her LinkedIn profile. . . (Okay, I admit it. This sounds suspiciously like stalking.) Her LinkedIn profile is a list of accomplishments that makes me wonder if she has a body double. She sits on charity boards (hence, the Uzbek goats), founded her own company and has won several awards. 

It took me three weeks to write a LinkedIn profile because I had nothing to say. Good thing I have experience in creative writing. 

One day, by sheer coincidence, I met this woman. Well, I didn’t meet her. I eavesdropped on a conversation she was having. (Stop judging me. Everyone eavesdrops. Right?) 

I heard her say her divorce was almost final. I heard her express concern about her teenage son. I heard her say she was struggling. What I really heard was that her life was messy.  

Finally. Something I could relate to. My life is messy, too! 

I was instantly ashamed. I realized I’d made up a completely inaccurate story about this woman based on snapshots of happy moments; single instances in time that she shared with the world.  

How much do we not share with the world? 

Social media has destroyed the self-esteem and confidence of more women than the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Beyonce combined. We spend hours scrolling through posts, videos, photos and updates that make our heads swim with inadequacy. 

We often succumb to the “Why bother?” attitude and medicate ourselves with bags of hot Cheetos. 

I challenge someone to create a social media page where no filters are allowed. Everything must be real and honest and messy. Our lives don’t have to be Hallmark movies, but it’s about damn time we realized we’re already enough.  

 

Originally published in the Davis Clipper