Monday, December 24, 2012

The Education of Dylan and Grady

There are really only two things I remember about kindergarten: older kids spitting on us through the playground fence and someone breaking his leg on the Playground Spinning Thing.  Since 1976, the kindergarten classroom is the same, but the fence has been removed -- it was too tempting to spit through -- and the courts ordered the dangerous playground equipment removed.  I have no memory of pre-school, but I'm told I went for one semester and killed the class's pet hamster (I petted it, and petted it, and it just died).  In light of that, I really had no expectations for my children's kindergarten and pre-school educations.

Bonnie and Clyde in their Pacer (all outlaws drive these, right?)
Grady is just a pre-school interloper.  He goes two days a week and is done by noon.  But he really knows how to milk the attention in those few hours.  I started noticing it when I took him in in the mornings.  He's always greeted like Norm in Cheers, except it's from all the girls in the class.  Then, they instantly start trying to help.  "Grady, let me get your coat," and, "Here's your name tag, I found it for you."  It's better service than the Four Seasons.  The teachers have noticed, too, and have put a stop to it.  It's better for Grady's education if he does the assigned tasks himself, rather than pawning them off to cute girls.  But, it's not a bad gig either, and I figure, either way, he's learning something.

I should have known kindergarten was going to be a whole new world the day Dylan got off the bus and said, "Dad, Joe called me a ... pause, sound it out ... fuck."  Before the "k" sound left her mouth, I was headed for the truck, ready to go find Joe, or his parents, when I realized that Joe is probably six-years old and was just showing off a forbidden word he'd heard at home.  I steadied my pulse, took a breath, and told Dylan, "Don't sit near Joe anymore."

The other part about kindergarten that Regina and I didn't expect was that Dylan has spent nearly as much time in the principal's office in ONE semester as I did in seven years at that school.  Granted, I was a goody-two shoes and my offenses were a lot more on the delinquent side (which contradicts the goody-two shoes, I know), but, a kindergartner spending that much time in trouble?  We worry.

So, now we have a Responsibility Chart, and we preach the gospel of Standing Up For Those Who Are Getting Picked On, and Making Good Choices.  These are talks I'd imagined us having five years down the road, but sometimes the art of raising kids is no art at all.  It's improv, which is sloppy, at best.

Is it working?  We'll see.  Grady loves going to school and, for the most part, quit letting the girls do everything for him.  He's learning and loves to learn, so we're excited for his progress.  Dylan's learning too.  She's learned that she gets along great with both the principal and the school secretary.  But she's also learning to be her own person.  And, maybe the valuable lesson she's learned, is that sometimes it's better for her father's constitution to sit very near the bus driver than to sit next to little jerkwads named Joe.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Perfect Place

For most, Thanksgiving means piles of food, getting together with family, and drunk uncles.  As fun as it is to sit around a TV with relatives and pretend to be interested in the Detroit Lions, we usually opt for a low-keyed Baja holiday.  This year we headed back to Cabo.

Cabo, of course, didn't disappoint.  Regina got the sunshine she'd been missing, Dylan found the last remaining seashells on the beach, Grady had a kiddy pool, and I had Pacifico and lime.  We were all happy.

Well, mostly happy.  The Dia de los Muertos was nearly a month past, but most shops were still selling the skeleton dolls to tourists.  The first time Grady saw one, he was riding along on my shoulders and came face to face with a pair of 4 foot tall skeletons dressed in wedding clothes.  He clamped down on my neck like a bull rider and steered my head away from the danger.  I couldn't blame him though, those souvenirs got to be a little too much after a while.  Soon, Grady was skittish of every doll, Senor Frog statue, and lacquered puffer fish we saw.

What did make Grady happy was the pool and the chicks around the pool.  He's a constant flirt, so whenever any female passed by, he's stick out his skinny chest and coyly say hi.  "Ohh, what a cutie," or, "Que guapo," they'd reply and I'd pat him on the back.  "Thata boy, here comes another one, get ready."

Dylan was content to swim in the pool or play on the beach, but she also had a few pesos to burn, so trips in our rental turned into opportunities to shop.  When we could hear each other talk between the blaring Pitbull songs at the grocery store, she'd try to buy every item she saw.  I had to keep reminding her that pretty much all of things there were also available at home.  She finally bought a little turtle in a shop in Todo Santos.  "This is what you want?" we asked skeptically.  It was and, of course, as soon as she got back to the room she broke off its head.

We've always known this, but on vacation it becomes amplified: Dylan talks non-stop.  At the pool, it's just chatter and it's fun.  Downtown, we're often concerned that she'll offend (at one point I thought she was counting Mexicans, but she informed me that she was counting coconut trees).  And in the car, she just talks.  And talks.  We learned that some words do, in fact, rhyme with orange (but they only make sense to Dylan), and basketball court, and beach, and ocean, and whatever else she happened to see from her window.

For the adults, Cabo is about as easy a vacation as you can find.  Tired of the pool?  Go to the beach.  Too much sand?  Go get a taco.  Full?  Take a nap.  Awake?  Drink a Pacifico.  And, of course, we took full advantage of that cycle.  We did miss the chaos of a Hanna family Thanksgiving, but the sound of the waves, the laughter of kids by the pool, and, somewhere faint and far off, from a television at the bar, the sound of the Lions losing on Thanksgiving made it feel like we were in the perfect place.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Super Spastic Supper Frogs

The Super Frogs Pee Wee Soccer team, led by the young standout Dylan Hanna, dominated in league play this year and earned a chance to defend the coveted Scott Valley Golden Chalice.  They hosted previously unbeaten Manchester United at the hallowed grounds of Etna Elementary.  After 90 minutes of intense play, the score was a draw.  In an extra-time shootout, Hanna remarkably scored all 8 goals to seal the win and defat the English powerhouse.  Ok, I admit, this is the fantasy press release I wrote as my mind drifted after watching four and five-year olds swarm around a soccer ball like feeding time in a hog barn.

For some reason, I thought that since Dylan was a year older, her new team would act like mature five-year olds and fall in love with the "beautiful game."  The first clue things would be 2011, part II, came in the very first game.  At one point I counted half our players practicing summersaults while the other team dribbled the ball downfield.  The Super Frogs weren't in the middle of a goal celebration, they were just prematurely getting ready for gymnastics season.

In one particularly lopsided match, the Super Frog's highlight was when the other team ran the ball the length of the field (again), set up for a score, shot, and ... no goal.  Our goal keeper had pulled both goal cones and put them on his head, then ran off.  The other team was awarded the first ever Pee Wee soccer free-kick at goal.  That tactic worked, though.  It slowed the other team down and got in their heads enough to prevent them from scoring for a full minute.

The Frogs had a small identity crisis -- that may be the only way to explain their season.  The team sponsor, printed on the back of their green jerseys, was a family no one had heard of (rare in Scott Valley).  The coach finally admitted that the name was misspelled.  On the team photo, they were the "Supper Frogs" (Frog, it's what's for dinner.), and in all reality, they should have been called, "Please Keep Your Hands to Yourself," because that's what the coach had to remind the team fifty times a game.

When Dylan wasn't trying to tackle her own teammates, or practice rolling, or eat grass, she seemed to enjoy soccer and is actually pretty good.  A player's dad from another team was impressed with her ability to clean out a ruck by physically pulling players away from the ball.  Illegal? Maybe.  Using rugby skills in soccer? Awesomely definitely.

Conversations with Dylan on the way home from matches generally were along the lines of: You did a great job in the fourth quarter, but we realllllly need you to stop tackling your teammates.  It makes your coach sad.  And remember, the five candy bar deal from last year?  That still stands (1 goal = 5 candy bars).  But, in the end, the Super Spastic Supper Frogs had fun, got to be silly, drank lots of after-match Capri Suns, and ate granola bars.  To a bunch of five-year olds who don't keep score, what else matters?  Maybe Dylan should remind her dad of that once in a while, as long as he hasn't zoned out, writing fictitious press releases about the heroics of a young squad from Etna.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Last night, as I was combing Dylan's hair after her bath, she farted on my leg and laughed.  Today, in her Pee-Wee soccer match, she repeatedly ran into the middle of the soccer-scrum, rooted around for the ball, body checked teammates and opponents, and chased down the ball, wherever it wound up.  When the whistle would blow, she'd get in a friendly shove match with her friends on the team until the entire team was rolling in the grass.  All this is from the girl who wants to be a ballerina when she grows up and considers herself a princess.  And not some phony Kate Middleton princess, but a real one who wears pink dresses every single day and never takes off her tiara.

This princess fantasy has been fed in a big way lately.  First, she was a flower-girl in her cousin Lacy's wedding.  Dylan was pretty certain that she was going to be the wedding's main attraction and called it "her wedding," or "my day."  When the four or five-hundred guests arrived, she she didn't falter -- they were there to watch her walk down the aisle.  I admired her confidence.

Grady was the ring bearer and Regina and I had our doubts that he'd even make it half-way (4:1 odds in Reno).  A 3-year old asked to preform any task in front of a large audience usually ends in a wet diaper and tears.  Grady must have taken aisle-walking tips from his sister because he strutted with the "ring" like a pimp strolling his turf.

We'd barely come down from the wedding-high (or, in my case, the wedding-hangover), when Dylan was asked to be the crown-bearer for homecoming.  I heard, "Dylan gets to crown the new queen," but Dylan heard, "Dylan is a princess and will wear a tiara and the entire homecoming parade and football game will be in her honor."  Of course, she was right.  In the parade, she got to throw candy to the fawning masses from the back of a '66 Corvette, and I'm sure she was thinking, "Let them eat cake," or something equally as queen-ly.

A few days previous, Regina took Dylan to a friend's house to borrow a princess dress.  There were poofy pink dresses and flowery gowns, but Dylan picked a red velvety one.  I was a little surprised that she didn't go with anything pink, until I realized that the dress came with a small sweater-thingy that had a white fuzzy trim.  That's right, just like Santa.  Dylan got to one-up ol' St. Nick and be the princess he could never be.

Dylan, with her escort and the previous homecoming queen and king, carried in the giant queen crown and, at the right moment, crowned the new queen.  I'm sure, as the newly elected queen pried the crown from Dylan's little fists, Dylan whispered something like, "Here's your crown.  For now."

Grady had nearly a good of time as Dylan.  He was surrounded by princesses.  There was one in particular that he had a huge crush on.  She, of course, was in the biggest dress of all and Grady was drawn to her like a housewife to a 50 Shades novel.  I had to pry him off of her just so I wouldn't look like the creeper dad who sends his son in for hugs on high-school girls.

Dylan and Grady were pretty quiet in the backseat as I drove them home that night.  They'd both had a big day and the sugar and adrenaline were wearing off.  We'd just about made it to the driveway when Dylan piped up. "Dad?  I think this was the best day ever."  "I think you're right, princess," I said.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Year of the Fish

Much like the Chinese calender system of naming years after animals, Siskiyou County residents mark the passing of time by naming years after Siskiyou Golden Fair events.  1994? Ah, the Year of the $6 FFA Hog.  '86? the Year of the Tilt-A-Whirl Upchuck Disaster.  Dylan and Grady have picked up on the practice and 2012 will be remembered as either the Year of the Carnival Game Scam, or the Year of the Minimum Height Requirement.

Dylan came to the fair this year with two goals: be tall enough to ride the Ferris Wheel and to spend money like a 5-year old with no concept of the value of things.  She tackled the Ferris Wheel first.  When she backed up to the "You Must Be This Tall" sign, she was at least two inches over the minimum, so I took off her platform shoes and got ready to ride.  Then she looked up and chickened out.  "Maybe tomorrow," she offered.  We tried again the next day, and again she wavered, but I couldn't go another year of Ferris Wheel regrets, so I loaded her up and up we went.  She loved it.  She walked around the chair and peered over the sides.  She reminded me of a 1930s Golden Gate Bridge construction worker.  Unfortunately, I lost my nerve when I hit the top of the ride and spent the rest of the time nervously trying to talk Dylan into sitting and fighting off the cold sweats.  I let Regina take her up after that.

Grady, too, was finally tall enough for rides slightly more exciting than his two choices from last year:  the "Slow Train to Nowhere," and the Carousel.  We'd zip down the super slide, hit the Boingy Cars, roll on the Topsy Turvy Scurvy Ship and end up on the Go Gator -- a small roller-coaster that he loved.  The 105 degree afternoons were the only thing that slowed our roll, otherwise we'd probably be in an old RV, following the carnival across the west.

Dylan really got sucked in by the carnival games this year.  I wanted her to learn that the prize isn't worth the investment without emptying her (or my) entire piggy bank.  She packed $10 in her Hello Kitty purse and set off.  The first hawker was for a game so that is so ridiculous, and easy, that they prey on the young and weak.  You pay $3, pull a rubber duck from a water trough, and get a prize.  That's it.  Of course, Dylan wanted to spent all her money there, but this year was about learning lessons, so we moved on.  The Dart at Balloon lady wanted Dylan to give her $5 to toss a couple of darts.  I tried to explain that that seemed a little high for a little girl who was more likely to stick the dart in her toe than pop a balloon, but she wouldn't budge on the price.  I let my "Board President" badge reflect in the sunlight but she couldn't see it through her red eyes, so we left.

We skipped any game that involved tossing heavy balls at even heavier milk bottles, or ones that the prize was a "Slippery When Wet" mirror, or any that required one to toss a basketball through a hoop that was smaller than the ball.  Then the fish caught her eye.  For a couple of bucks, Dylan got fifteen ping-pong balls and had to land one in a jar with a tiny mouth.  It's an impossible game unless you want to spent $40 on a goldfish that has a lifespan of twelve minutes.  Perfect.  Low investment, long play time, no worthless return, and a valuable lesson learned.  I was pretty smug until I heard the plunk of a ball landing in water.

So, we came home with two fish that didn't live to see the following weekend.  Dylan is now a carnival expert and Grady treats every car ride like he's back on the Go Gator (he unbuckles and stands up with his hands in the air).  Minus the cigarettes and poor dental hygiene, Regina and I are like the carnies.  We make sure they stay safe, we buckle them in, and we give them crappy prizes when they do something good.  And 2012 is now officially the Year of the Fish.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Regina and the Bear

I always thought I was a pretty decent camper.  I can not-brush my teeth for days on end and eat trail mix with the best of them.  Then I met Regina and Bear Grylls.  These two know their stuff.  Regina is the queen of preparedness and Bear, well, that guy isn't afraid to gnaw on a reindeer carcass and wring out his sweaty socks to rehydrate.  So when the Eastside Gang went camping on the coast last week, I realized I had to step up my game to impress the kids.

I knew we were in for a wet weekend when it started raining an hour before we even set up camp.  What would Bear Grylls do? I thought.  Drink pee, for sure, but a quick survey of the family told me that wasn't going to be an option.  So I went with plan B (my plan B, which was collecting rain water, not the other plan B, the morning after pill).  Despite the fact that we brought 8 gallons of purified water, we were 5 miles from a grocery store, and we had a faucet in our camp site, I set up tarps and buckets and began collecting.  It really was more of an experiment just to see how much it would rain, I swear, but I knew if a hardcore survivalist happened by our camp, he/she would be impressed.  In the end, I used the collected rainwater (an entire bucket full) to wash out the french press and clean the kids' feet.

We made the best of our soggy situation by hiking around with the kids.  Our first jaunt was to a replica Native village.  When we got there it was full of tents and cars and someone was blasting Journey while he BBQed.  I told the kids that a long time ago Yurok Indians used to live in this area where they hunted for hot dogs and drove to the beach in their Ford Fiestas.  Man, those were the days.

We left the village and spotted our first banana slug.  I couldn't get Grady or Dylan to touch it, but I noted where it lived, just in case we ran out of food and needed a quick and easy food source.  As we hiked, Regina asked Dylan if she thought Patrick's Point was beautiful.  "No," Dylan replied.  "What about these huge trees, aren't they pretty?"  "No."  "Well," Regina said, "find something pretty."  Dylan looked around.  "That truck over there is pretty.  It's shiny."  That's my girl.

By Sunday, the rain stopped and Dylan warmed up to nature.  The kids ran the trails around camp, found more slugs, and played on the beach.  We took part of the day to cruise Arcata or, as a friend calls it, the set of Zombieland, because of all the extremely high or drunk locals staggering around like the undead.  At one point, a large crowd gathered in the town square to sample some home grown.  As the smoke wafted our way, Dylan told us that something smelled poopy.  It might have been the weed, it might have been the body odor, either way, I was glad the scent repelled her.

We woke up Monday morning to more rain.  Regina, of course, was prepared for it with tarps and plastic bags.  Bear Grylls would have probably stockpiled slugs and slid down a cliff.  The survivalist in me was too full of Bulleit, S'mores, and sushi from the night before and didn't have the heart to do much more than throw the damp gear in the back of the truck and go to town for breakfast.  As we drove home, I thought that Bear would be a little proud of the Eastside Gang.  They're learning, he'd say, as he raised his urine-filled Nalgene bottle in a toast.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When Animals Attack

Ranch life tends to get over romanticized: cowboys on good horses, driving a herd of gentle cattle through a field of crayola-green grass, while playing guitars or carrying puppies.  Even difficult jobs seem heroic: Yeah, I had to break the ice before I swam the river in my underwear, but I had to get to that baby calf before the pack of grizzly bears found the little booger.  Usually, though, it's hard, dirty work and sometimes you just get kicked in the nuts.  Figuratively and literally.

Last week we had a few heifers in the corral for preg checking (That's another one of those non-romantic ranch jobs.  You try to look Marlboro Man cool with your hand up a cow's butt.  It's impossible).  My job was to bring the cows from the back pen and into the chute.  One girl was feeling especially spritely and decided that a flying Jet Li kick would be fun.  Her hoof caught me right in the ... yeah, there.  I hit the dirt, then thought, "That didn't hurt that ba .... aaaaaah."  I spent the rest of the day with a very specific type of stomach ache, wondering if Lyle Alzado would ever drop back down to join his friends Jim Plunkett and Howie Long.

Protecting Grady from wild chickens
Lately, our kids have been drawing the short straw on loving animal relationships, also.  Grady has a new nemesis, and her name is chicken.  Our chickens are free-range in the sense that they roam our lawn by day, pecking bugs and laying eggs where we cannot find them, then return to their coop at night.  The kids tend to just play around them, dodging them and their poop as they play in the yard.  But the girls have grown very accustomed to humans and are a little too comfortable around us, like house guests who clip their toe nails on your couch.  It's become a problem at meal time when we eat outside.  The hens quickly learned that the little one spills the most food and now Grady cannot sit at his kid table and eat in peace.  The chickens roll up on him like gangbangers who have spotted a lost tourist in their hood.  They think his toes are dropped kidney beans and peck at his feet.  His cries of terror earn him a seat at the adult table, which was probably part of his plan all along, now that I think about it.

Bring on the kittens!
Dylan has no problems with our hens.  When they swarm, she goes on the offensive and starts carrying them off.  But with our cats it's a different story.  Still, her abusive relationship with our five orange tabbies continues.  They hiss, snarl, claw, and bite her, but she loves them soooooo much, and they have to love her back, don't they?  It's sad to watch, really.  She'll pick one up, hold it and squeeze it and is as happy as she'll ever be.  The cat begins his warning growl but Dylan ignores it.  "It's going to scratch you.  You know that, right?" I'll say.  She says nothing, but the look she gives tells me, This time, it'll be different.  He loves me.  I shrug, walk away, and wait for the inevitable tears.

Regina, somehow, has stayed on the good side of our livestock and pets.  The rest of us need to get some pointers from her.  Dylan will keep covering her scratches in Hello Kitty bandaids, and Grady now eats his meals like a gunslinger - his back against a wall so that no one (or no chicken) can sneak up behind him.  And the next time I have to swim a river and fight off savage beasts to save a newborn calf, I'm going to make sure the little sucker doesn't try to kick me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Celiac Prince and the Busy Princess

We're not 100% sure that Grady has wheat-allergies, but we know this: after a blowout in Trader Joe's that was so bad the terror alert color was raised to orange, we knew we had to tinker with his diet.  The kind and intelligent people of the internet told us to try a gluten-free diet (they also showed us some wacky cat videos; bless those internet folks) and ... it's worked.  Grady is a happier, healthier, and better smelling kid.  He's even turned into a daredevil (remember, this is the most cautious boy in the world, so daredevil is a relative term).  But, he climbs on chairs, tables, and ladders.  He carries chickens around and is getting pretty good at parkour.

A gluten-free diet isn't especially difficult -- meat, fruit, veggies, repeat.  I'd like to say he doesn't get jealous when Dylan chows down on an Oreo and he's stuck with a rice cracker, but he's been a good sport about it.  I decided to make pancakes for him last week.  I went back to the internet people for advice and found a mixed bag when it came to gluten free recipes.  They either came from sites that had such complicated ingredients -- things I'd never heard of, or could only find in a chemist's lab -- or came from sites that were run by commune leaders who advised things like, "cleanse the placenta in bark-water and patchouli oil before you blend it into your oatmeal cookies, they'll have a better consistency!"  Needless to say, the pancakes were definitely on the crepe side of thickness, but, put enough berry syrup on it, and he'll eat anything.  And, if it keeps him happy and healthy, I'll let him climb over the furniture while I keep tinkering in the kitchen.

Dylan is now 5 and, to put it simply, busy.  Recently, we celebrated her pink-sparkle-princess-pony-tea party with classmates and friends.  I had no idea what to expect.  A yard full of sugared up princesses (and a couple of princes)?  I'd rather take my chances at free meth and MMA night at the local bar.  But, amazingly, the party went off without a hitch.  Now, Dylan spends her time making sure Grady doesn't touch her new toys, or trying to ride her bike.

Country kids have acres and acres they can roam, which is great, but they don't have the concrete or asphalt available for bike riding.  Ever try to ride training wheels in gravel?  You don't get very far.  So, Dylan is stuck doing tight figure-8s on our patio.  Grady sits on his bike, pretends to pedal, and yells at Dylan every time she passes (which is frequently, since the riding area is so small).

Last weekend, Dylan ditched the bike riding for a while and helped Regina and me as we did yard work.  My job was to transplant a lavender bush that had taken over most of a flower-bed.  I dug, hacked, and cussed at the plant until I pulled it free and relocated it to its new home like a bad bear that had been in too many campers' coolers.  I tossed in the last shovel full of dirt, and wiped the sweat from my forehead.  "You're an animal," Regina said.  I almost felt manly, but Dylan chimed in before I could bask in the compliment, "Yeah, a pig!"  I figured it was time to go inside and see what the internet could tell me about child raising.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The 40 Year Old Hooker

*Warning: This post is a self-indulgent history of me and rugby.  It has nothing to do with my kids or wife or ranching.  If that's what you're here for, come back in a week or two and I'll have something terrific.  If you're jonesing for something to read, or a fan of rugby, carry on.

I still remember my last rugby game.  It was 1994 and I was a flanker for the Stanislaus Harlots, a men's club that claimed most of the Central Valley as home.  Chris Angelica and I were the only two on the team from UOP and we'd carpool once a week to Merced or Modesto or Manteca or Mazatlan -- some Hwy 99 podunk town south of Stockton -- for practice.  Aside from Chris, I had few friends on the team.  I practiced, played, and partied with this group, but it was after all a men's team.  Back then, I still felt like a kid.

In my last match, we played a side from Monterey.  Half their team got lost on the way to the pitch and I volunteered to step in as their hooker.  By the middle of the first half, I'd already pissed off my own team because I kept stealing the ball in the scrums.  At some point I kicked our hooker in the knee and nearly went to blows with our lock.   Monterey loved me.

And then it was over.  I remember driving home that day in disbelief.  I was graduating soon and knew that was probably my last rugby match.  I didn't like the thought one bit.  I didn't want to be done at 22-years old.  Nor did I want to be like the creepy 50-year old "doctor" on our Stanislaus team who snorted coke in his van before and/or during matches, then played for five minutes.  There had to be a middle ground.

But there wasn't.  I tried to join a rugby club when I taught in Japan, but I found that working at an all-girls' school didn't help shed any light on the whereabouts of a men's club.  My only male Japanese friend went to an art school; he was a worse resource than my female students.  When I came home, I heard rumors of rugby in Medford and Redding, but a two-hour drive, just for practice, didn't seem practical.

I grudgingly accepted that I was done playing rugby.  I bought a satellite and watched World Cup matches as my 20s turned into my 30s.  I got high-speed internet so I could watch rugby clips on YouTube and my 30s nearly turned into my 40s when Trevor called.

"I'm starting a rugby team here.  I heard that you used to play."  I almost thought it was a prank.  Rugby in Siskiyou County?  I never thought I'd see it.  "I'm old," I told him, "but I'll do whatever I can to help."  I dug my 20-year old Adidas Flanker boots from the ball closet and joined the team.

Of course I close my eyes before we engage.
To my amazement, a large group of young men also wanted to play and we practiced maniacally.  We had a lot of catching up to do -- only three or four guys on the team had any rugby experience.  In our first "friendly" matches, we broke the most basic of rules so flagrantly that the other teams either thought we were assholes or cheaters.  I kept coming to practice and found myself stepping into more and more drills.  I wanted to play, but I was unsure if my body could handle it.

My out was that I didn't own a mouthguard.  The one piece of protection in rugby: if I didn't have one, I could still remain on the fence about playing.  Then, during a full-contact tackling drill (in which I was participating, without a mouthguard), one of our players lost a tooth.  I went to Walmart after practice, slapped my $3 on counter for a new mouthguard, and stepped, in my mind, back onto the pitch.

It hasn't been easy.  I don't remember Sundays hurting so badly.  In college, I never broke a bone, needed stitches, or spent more than a day recuperating.  In my first match back, I broke a pinky-toe.  Next match, a rib.  This winter I had a shiner so big that I terrified my kids and have pulled the muscles in my neck (twice).  I had a concussion so bad that was asking players at the end of the match when the second half was going to start.  Currently, one leg feels shorter than the other and my forearm is yellow and swollen.

That's what an old hooker looks like
And I'm loving it.  I mistakingly mentioned to our coach that I'd hooked before, but I don't think I mentioned that it was only once or twice.  So now I'm a hooker.  Even with my limited hooking experience, I thought I knew enough about wearing the #2.  That is, until a scrum tented up in a match against Mendocino and I heard my neck pop like bubble wrap.  I spent the next week having Regina apply Tiger Balm while I looked up "How to be a hooker" online.  That Google search didn't help my game too much.

Still, I'm back.  Fatter and slower, sure, but I feel like I understand the game a little better.  I'm the old guy I used to hate playing against.  I'm the old guy who knows every dirty trick in the book without getting penalized.  I'm the old guy who pisses of indignant young flankers.  I'm the old guy in the middle of the pack, mixing it up with the big guys.  I'm the old guy who doesn't think he's an old guy.  My friends and family think I'm nuts.  I probably am; I probably always have been.  But I'm a rugby player again and it's never felt so good.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Baby Kobayashi and the Appalachian Shuffle

Mornings are quite a mixed bag around casa de Eastside.  Regina and Dylan wake up like they are on a sugar high and begin their day immediately.  Usually, around 5:45, I'm jolted from my sleep with a whisper that's loud enough to wake the neighbors.  "Can I go play with the kitties?" Dylan asks.  "Hmmpghfrrt," I reply, and off she runs.  Grady and I, on the other hand, wake a little more slowly.  We like slow ballads to ease us from our slumber and fleece blankets to cozy up with while we use all of our effort to open our eyelids.  If we aren't pestered constantly, we'll immediately go back to sleep.  But there is one sure-fire thing that'll have the little man wide-awake and hustling out of bed: bananas.

You've all seen competitive eating on ESPN (of all places).  That's what breakfast looks like around here.  Grady attacks a banana like Kobayashi attacks hot dogs, except he doesn't dunk them in water first.  He just applies constant pressure to the end of the banana while he unhinges his jaw and stuffs it in his mouth.  I'm pretty sure he doesn't chew it at all and I usually expect his poop to contain whole, undigested bananas.  Regina and I have taken to breaking them in half, just to give him a little breather between bites.  I've really, really wanted to see just how many he'll eat, but, you know, parental responsibilities and all that.

Chillin' with my Great-Godfather
When Grady's done, he wanders around the kitchen until his next course, oatmeal, cools down.  At some point, usually at the peak of his banana-high, he'll spot his shadow on the floor and it triggers an instant reaction: he starts dancing like a moonshiner after he's tasted his first batch of the season (Yes, there's a season.  Don't you watch Moonshiners?).  The dance is quite a little hillbilly stomp and is likely an interpretation of the few times he's seen his old man dance at wedding receptions or rugby socials.  It starts slow, the elbows shoot out and start swinging side to side, then his feet start a little shuffle.  Once it really gets going, his elbows swing like he's in a mosh-pit and his feet start tapping and stomping.  When it really gets wild he'll spin circles, but that's only after two bananas.

Fuzzy kittens, banana eating contests, and Solid Gold mornings aren't a bad way to start each day.  I modify it a little to suit me.  I'm content with a cup of coffee, a kiss from my wife, and hugs from my kids.  But if anyone's up for a bacon-eating contest, it's on.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Child Labor

The game is played like this:  2 kids, 2 shovels, 1 cow pasture.  Each player may stand no more than 10' from the other.  When a player finds a fresh pile of cow manure, player must strike the pile with the back of the shovel and splatter opponent.  After 1 hour, player covered in lesser amount of poop wins.  Or this:  2 players, 2 bb-guns.  Ok, you probably know what happens next, right, One-Eyed Mike?  This is a small sampling of the games I played growing up.  Not once did I sit for a game of Monopoly, but Rat-Batting?  A little too much.  Some "games" were thinly disguised ways of my parents getting free ranch-work.  Castrating calves is fun if you save the fuzzy little scrotums for Evel Knievel action figure helmets!  I bought it then, and now Dylan is all in on the concept, too.

I haven't sold her on the fuzzy helmet idea, yet; she still is a little freaked by the bawling and clatter of working cattle.  Grady's the same, and I can't blame either.  Cattle work is a messy, loud day.  Grady, when he joins us in the corrals, simply yells at the cows (or me), then sobs.  Dylan turns her head, draws dinosaurs on the back of vaccine boxes, finds a happy place -- then falls asleep.  Sometimes, though, I'm able to get some work out of her.  Remember the game "Pick up Sticks"?  I don't either, but I told Dylan it was a game all kids played and it was easy to learn.  I just put her in the feedlot and told her, "Go pick up sticks."  We piled branches while her pink school-shoes and white tights got covered in "dirt" (remember, it's a feedlot).  We had a blast.  Dirty work that culminates in a giant bon-fire, what could be better?
Sometimes, especially if there's a very special episode of Team Umizoomi on, it's hard to get either kid out of the house to help me.  I have to result to bribery, which I'm not above.  With Dylan it's simple: clothes and candy.  So, I stuff my vest pockets with Tootsie Pops, Regina packs a snack bag, and Dylan gets to wear a tiara and a tutu for her workwear.  Nothing says "cowgirl" like a pair of Wranglers, a Carhartt jacket, and a pink tutu spattered in manure.

Grady's starting to work with me a lot more, but at his age, there's little I need to bribe him with more than, "You want to hang out with Dad?  Come with me!"  I'm sure I'll be packing a snack bag full of candy soon enough.

Until Dylan is big enough to swing a shovel or pack a bb-gun, we'll keep her in cowgirl-princess workwear and hopped up on candy.  And I'll be getting the one thing that has kept agriculture alive in the U.S. for the last one-hundred years:  free child-labor.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Nariz Naviblah

This year for Christmas break, we went to Mazatlan.  We made our grand entrance into the country with a plop.  No, it wasn't the sound of our plane bouncing its wheels on the tarmac; it was the sound of the contents of Grady's full diaper spilling onto the floor as we were trying to get through customs.  When Dylan was younger, the sounds of her crying would guarantee us a quick escort through customs without any hassles.  Apparently, the smell of Grady's poo has the same effect.  We breezed through, no problemo.

The morning we left home, it was 8 degrees.  The week before, we'd had nothing but bone-chilling fog that wouldn't burn off until late afternoon.  We needed a good thawing and spent our first day or two regaining the feeling in our extremities.  Dylan and Grady gathered seashell ornaments for the little Christmas tree we brought.  After our tree was decorated, we figured we should make an attempt at blending in with the locals by brushing up on our Spanish.  "Un tequila y limon, por favor," Regina repeated, over and over.  I'm not sure what it means, but it seemed to make her happy, so I'd add, "Yeah, sounds bueno," and Dylan would throw out her version of Merry Christmas by telling everyone we saw, "Nariz Naviblah."

We rented a car and spent afternoons exploring downtown Mazatlan.  I thought we'd head north, out of town, for the Advanced Elusive Driving Techniques, Cartel Experience class that the resort offered, for that "real Mexican experience you'll never forget!", but Regina navigated us to the historical downtown instead.  Dylan grabbed her purse full of pesos and searched for her perfect toy (at one point she tried to buy a stuffed kangaroo.  Nothing says "Mexican vacation" like a kangaroo.), while Grady and I found a shop that made homemade salted caramel and coconut ice cream.  I was pretty sure, at that point, that we'd never leave.

Christmas day was perfect.  Santa came to our room and left presents, then Mexican Santa came by the pool that afternoon to dole out more gifts.  Given Grady's Santaphobia, we let him skip sitting on this one's lap.  Dylan was given a make-up kit, which she promptly applied liberally to her face.  The yellow lip/neck gloss looked okay, but the purple unibrow was a little much.

Grady and I took a little afternoon snooze, then went back to the pool to find Regina and Dylan.  They weren't in their usual places (Regina soaking up sun, Dylan leading a game of tag in the shallow pool), so we headed for the beach.  We were distracted by shouts and screams and I assumed that an iguana had wandered into someone's pool bag.  Instead, I found a big white dude wielding a club and beating the snot out of a pinata while a line of small kids, Dylan included, cheered him on.  Regina told us that the little kids had gone through three rotations and couldn't crack it, so they called in some Jim Thome ringer to take a few swings.  "I wish that was me," I jealously whispered.  He spilled the pinata's contents with a few expert swings and the kids dove in.

There's nothing wrong with an uneventful vacation.  Last trip, I got food poisoning from ceviche and pulled over by a cop -- two things I'll never forget.  So, this trip, when nothing happened, we were relieved.  We ate great seafood, we expertly lounged by the pool, we built terrible sandcastles -- all the things that should happen on vacation -- and it was perfect.  Regina's tanner, I'm fatter (mmmm, flan), Grady's addicted to seafood, and Dylan keeps asking where her new make-up kit is.