Awkward Week: Up to Bat

I have little to no athletic ability. Sure, I can sink wadded up balls of paper into across-the-office trash cans—typically when no one’s looking—and I play a pretty mean game of table tennis, but I’ve never played team sports or anything. Not really.

My wife swam in high school, but she isn’t what anyone would call athletic either.

As our firstborn has demonstrated both talent and interest in sports, we figured it would be a good idea to get her into something official, hence our first-ever foray onto a softball diamond this afternoon. Actually, my mom played softball for years, but I usually spent her games looking for bottlecaps.

I’m not a sports guy, if you couldn’t tell.

I’ve tossed a ball around with my 6-year-old from time to time, so she at least understands the concept of throwing and catching, but as I walked her toward the sign-in tables and paired-off lines of girls lobbing (overhand!) pitches into each others’ mitts, I realized that I should’ve talked to her a little more about the game.

“Do you know what you do after you hit the ball?” I asked her, pointing to home plate as we passed. “In a game, after you hit it?”

She thought for a moment, then: “Throw it back?”

“You run,” I said. “Run to first base.”

I got a blank look in return.

Fortunately, based on my observations from this morning, she’s a quick study and will likely trick everyone into thinking her parents know at least a little bit about softball. I mean, she’s not perfect right off the bat or anything, but she’s confident and has good hustle and is coordinated enough to actually connect a bat with a ball, or later throw that same ball in the direction she intends it to go.

I’m excited and nervous about this new phase in parenting, in life. I don’t know the team sports environment, either from personal experience or as the parent of a participant since this is so new.

We also chose today to start dance lessons for our 4-year-old, so we felt like cliche parents today for the first time: loading three kids into the minivan and shuttling everyone from home to rehearsal to home to practice to home.

So it begins.


Awkward Week: Freaky Friday


My family gets a farm box delivered each week, part of what’s called a “CSA” program, for “Community Supported Agriculture.” Basically, we pay for a share of what local farms produce, and the literal fruits (and vegetables) are delivered to our door.

This week, we received a lot of bok choy, which prompted my 6-year-old to collect it all and array it on a chair in our living room, giving each piece a Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque name.

“This is the bok choy family,” she said. “Here is Ma, Pa, little sisters Mary and Carrie, big sister Laura, and little baby Gary.”

Then she added: “So, which ones should we chop up first?”

My wife commented that the whole scenario sounded like a “Little House on the Prairie”/axe murderer mashup, but my daughter did subsequently singlehandedly prep and cook ginger rice noodle soup for the family for dinner tonight, so I’m not worried.

At least, I’m not complaining.

Awkward Week: Worry Wednesday

As much as I would like to eliminate worry from my life—and by that I mean cut out sweat-inducing worry from my daily schedule—the best I can seem to manage is to keep it at a low simmer.

As a journalist, I sometimes write about health issues, which is the equivalent of me turning up the burner.

Some months back, I put together a piece on Lyme disease. Now, I’m in the midst of a story on drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Neither of these stories was one I had to pick up, but I felt they were both important to tell.

So I’ve learned that Lyme disease presents in so many different ways, it can be incredibly difficult to diagnose.

And I’ve learned that tuberculosis can infect far more than just lungs: joints, the brain, even intestines. Yes, intestinal tuberculosis is a thing. An explosive thing.

Knowledge may be power, but power corrupts, right? And I feel like there’s a place somewhere here for an extension of the simmering water metaphor—a watched pot never boils, or something. Except I’m always watching that pot, and it’s boiling away despite the constant scrutiny.

There’s an awkward work-home balance I haven’t yet mastered. Unless I decide to focus, professionally, on nothing but fun features, I’m going to be staring sickness in the face. And not just sickness, but murder and fraud and rape and all the dirty stuff that proliferates if no one’s there to shine a light on it. And even then. There’s no avoiding it in my line of work, and so, for me, there’s no avoiding the fuel constantly getting thrown on the fire.

Or I should say the knob constantly getting turned up.

This helps: the writing. It keeps me from watching the pot, directly, so I can’t see whether it’s boiling or not.

But I would like to figure out a way to get it off the stove completely someday. Or at least move it to a smaller burner.

Awkward Week: Five Senses

As a newspaper editor, I’m sometimes asked to visit classrooms from elementary school to college and talk about what I do, answer questions about my job and industry, and critique student newspapers.

On one community college visit, I had received a copy of the campus paper in advance and had gone over it with a red pen. One story in particular caught my eye: an opinion piece about eucalyptus trees. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but there wasn’t much of an opinion to it I could see, unless the opinion was, “I believe we shouldn’t forget that eucalyptus trees exist.” It would have made a better feature story, but that could have been the editor’s decision.

During my critique in front of the class, I touched on the cover stories, and the overall use of photography, and a little of this, a little of that. When I got to the tree story, I singled the student out and noted that if an opinion piece was going to set forth a vague opinion, it should at least have a great hook—something to draw readers in.

I’m a strong proponent of writing smell into a story (though I now realize I haven’t done that much here in the Shallows), so I emphasized the opportunity missed in not capitalizing on the pungent, medicinal, unmistakable eucalyptus scent.

“It’s so strong and instantly recognizable,” I said. “And when it rains, they smell like cat pee.”

For some reason, I spent several minutes on this, giving it more time than I did other articles. “It’s so important to write about smell,” I said. “It’s so visceral; it’s so universal.” When I finished my mini-lesson, the author said simply, “I have no sense of smell.”

I thought, for a brief moment, that she was messing with me, but the rest of the class nodded solemnly. I looked at the instructor—also nodding.

I had spent five or six minutes essentially haranguing this young writer for not doing something she couldn’t actually have done. I mean, I guess she could still have written about smell without herself being able to smell, but still …

Awkward Week: I Have a Dream

We just finished observing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, and by “observing,” I mean “making the girls clean up a bunch of water they poured onto the bathroom floor because they were playing ‘Cinderella’ and then sending them to bed with no stories.”

The build up to the day was better, though.

I was glad to see that my 6-year-old first-grader was learning about Dr. King in her class all last week, and she was very interested in the subject. She marked his actual birthday (Jan. 15) on our family calendar, brought home worksheets and coloring pages about him, and told us how he worked to fight against laws that were unfair.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “coloreds didn’t get fancy drinking fountains.”

We live in a very, very white town—like 85 percent white. Once, a couple of years ago, we decided to ride the city bus for a loop to show the girls our city. At the main hub, near the library, a passenger disembarked, prompting my firstborn to say, loudly, “Now the only people on the bus are us, the driver, and that different-colored-skin man!”

I try to use such situations/conversations to discuss the merits of diversity—as well as tact. There’s no ill intent behind her race-related talk, but I do frequently feel bad that I’m raising my kids in such a homogenous area that seeing a person several shades darker than us is headline news to a 4-year-old.

Also, this happens from time to time:

Me: What would you like to drink with dinner?

Secondborn: Gooja geeja goloja.

Me: I don’t know what that means.

Secondborn: Geeja jeeja.

Me: What is that? What are you saying?

Firstborn: She’s speaking Spanish.

Me: That’s not Spanish.

Firstborn: Gooka goloka.

Secondborn: Goka jolooka shashee.

Again, I try to use such moments as teaching opportunities, maybe dropping some actual practical Spanish—though I’m not a huge help there, since I studied French all throughout high school and college. Thanks for nothing, Dora and Diego. What was I putting up with all that shouting for?

On the flip side of all of this is an acceptance that makes me wonder where the previously mentioned questions come from. Some white friends of ours recently adopted a girl of a different race, and my daughters have never batted an eyelash. Same with a playdate at the beach this past weekend. A dad we met up with had an adopted son with a much, much, much darker skin tone, and my girls accepted the situation so seamlessly, it wasn’t even a situation to them.

It was like That’s your son? My dad has a son, too!

I wish I knew what triggers a comment in my girls—why they’ll point out skin color or someone speaking another language in one setting but not even notice it in another. And now I feel awkward writing about all this, like I’m making a deal out of something that’s only a deal because I’m making it into one.

What do you think?