Monday, April 23, 2007


If you had asked me several years ago who was the most valuable player on a baseball team, you would have gotten a long and, believe me, fascinating explanation (complete with graphs and charts) of why long relievers are the most important. Recent events have begun to change my mind. Last week, Tony invited all four of us to a Cardinals game. It was a beautiful day, and while I was skeptical that the girls would behave well enough to last the whole game, we actually stayed longer than most. Kate toddled around, searching out whichever of us had a mini teddy graham for her. She also alternated between snuggling with Tony and crying at the man sitting behind us. Clara took in the enormity of the stadium, looking wide-eyed at the signs, the (championship!) flags, the players, and the fans. But then someone caught her eye, and she was hooked. I speak of the most valuable member of a baseball team...

The mascot!

In St. Louis, the mascot is Fredbird, a goofy oversized cardinal with a predilection for wrapping his beak around little kids' heads. Between innings in Busch Stadium, Fredbird stands on the dugout and uses a giant slingshot to hurl t-shirts into the masses. Megan made sure to point him out to Clara, and thereafter Clara looked around only for Fredbird. Though we didn't actually see him face to face, you would have thought that he was sitting right next to us the way Clara talked about him on the way home. A couple of days later, Clara looked up at me and said, "Daddy, I want to go to the ballpark." I told her I had never loved her more than that instant.

You see, I like baseball. A lot. I watch more baseball on TV than all other programs combined. If I'm lucky, the Cardinals game ends about the time the Giants game begins. Both girls can say, "go Cards!" with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm. I blew my top when a close friend had the temerity to root for Detroit in last year's World Series. My brother and I have been to almost every park out there. So for my daughter to show some interest in something I have great interest in makes me very happy.

In order to foster her interest, to work the long con toward a true interest in baseball, I have to work Fredbird into the equation quite a bit. As she sits on my lap while we watch baseball (she sits on my lap while we watch anything,) I ask her if she sees Fredbird. I can tell she is looking everywhere in the background for him. Luckily, the network knows how valuable our mascot is and shows him quite a bit, much to the pleasure of my daughter, and, by extention, her father. Fredbird, you earned your World Series ring.

She doesn't sit and watch a whole game, of course, but on more than one occasion I've given her a choice of TV progams like Dora or Diego, and she answered, "baseball." God bless her. Often, after she has finished her dinner and I'm trying to herd her and her sister upstairs to get ready for bed, Clara looks up at me with her big, beautiful eyes and says, "I want to watch baseball." I say, "OK sweetie, but only one inning." She runs into the living room.

I think I might be the one being conned.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Transition

Somewhere in the last couple of months I've passed though the transition - as much as I'd like everyone to think I'm the struggling stay-at-home dad without a clue, this job is not as tough as it used to be. It's no less demanding than it used to be (I'd be writing more blog entries if it was less time consuming,) but it is no longer stressful and much less tiring. I've hit my groove. I've always been laid back with the girls, but I couldn't help worrying about what harm they could do to themselves or each other. Now I know enough of their personalities to predict how they will react to most situations, and as long as I can keep them contained in toddler friendly surroundings, I don't really have anything to worry about. I know all their noises - which cries are fake and which are real - and can let them play out of my sight. I really only feel panic when I hear silence from the next room: "Clara, are you ok?" "Yeah, I'm pooping." "OK, sweetie."

Staying home with my kids is nothing what I thought it would be. When considering staying home and preparing myself for what to expect, the only context I had was time I spent with my niece and nephews, so I had in my mind a lot of tumbling around on the floor, a lot of tickling, quite a bit of kids climbing all over me, and a lot of laughing. Of course that happens every day, but it's such a small part of my overall role that it seems silly to think that was what I expected. For two and a half years I've had to adapt to their emerging abilities and needs, and I've felt a step behind every step of the way - until recently.

In some way, my teaching career is playing a part in my newfound confidence. I remember very little from my first year teaching other than the panic I felt on a day to day basis. But after I had been over the material a few times, I no longer needed to be prepared down to the minute, and could even walk into a class without a plan for that day. It was often the case that those days I was shooting from the hip produced the most fruitful class conversations. I didn't put myself in that position too often, but I got the knack for improvisational teaching, and nothing requires more improvisation than dealing with two toddlers all day.

I once read that small children are the best example of chaos theory. But children operate under a set of rules that are fairly easy to understand. First, the most important thing to them is a parent's attention. If I can balance the attention I give to both of them, I'll save myself some tantrums, but it's not easy when Clara is accustomed to watching Sesame Street on my lap and Kate hasn't learned to sit on a lap for longer than 30 seconds. So what I do is overdo the attention for a few minutes - roll around on the ground with them until they've actually grown tired of the attention and move on to their toys. Everyone is happy.

Second, distraction is key. This is something I have a hard time rememebering. I have a bit of a temper and don't like it when my little ones don't do what I tell them to do. Megan's much better at distracting them into doing what she wants. She can turn chores into games better than I can. When I see a sibling fight brewing over a toy, I can usually distract Clara: "Clara, did you see that?" Her eyes get big and she looks around. "Outside, can you see?" She runs to the window, "what?" "The Easter Bunny! Did you see it?" She smiles and says, "yeah!" Fight averted.

Third, turn little things into big things and big things into little things. Falls that don't cause bodily injury? No big deal. Eating a banana like a monkey? Huge deal. Going to the doctor to get shots? That's nothing. Getting stickers from the doctor? Yay! I can get Clara to agree to anything if I make it seem exciting enough. Kate's not gullible enough to fall for any of that yet.

Experienced parents are saying, "duh," but every man has to learn on his own.