Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Letter to Hedgehog: Months Five and Six

Dear Hedgehog--

The last two months have been so busy for the whole family that I didn't ever get around to writing a month five letter. But I'll update you on the whole thing now. This letter with therefore be longer and harder to follow than the others. Sorry about that--but your English teacher dad has earned a few writing mulligans, and I'll cash some of those in now.

I have heard parents say that they simply stop traveling once they have kids because it's too much of a hassle. But your mom and I like traveling so much that we don't want to make that kind of sacrifice. I was certainly brought up that way by my parents...I went on my first hike (forget the destination) at the age of two weeks. Your mom and I are not terribly outdoorsy people, as you've probably discovered, but we do like to go out to the ballpark, and that's a place you've been often already.

Back before you were born, your Grandma RefPoet's family decided that they wanted the summer of 2009 to be a summer we all got together on the shores of Lake Michigan up in the pinkie of Michigan. We've been there fairly often before--I remember three separate times I made the trip to hang out with my aunts and uncles--and even before you were around, we knew we'd want to be there. A chance to play Pass The Baby with all my siblings, all of your cousins, a bunch of grandparents and second cousins...there were 20 of us there in all. We couldn't pass that up. So even after the economy went into the toilet and some of us considered being frugal and cancelling the trip, we all decided to spend the money and go anyway. As I said to my dad, "There are costs to going, but I think there are greater costs to NOT having this experience."

Your mom and I got a really good deal on a plane ticket...to Milwaukee, which is 8 hours from the condo we were staying at. So we decided to make a big trip out of it, heading into Milwaukee, doing a baseball game in Appleton, enjoying a fairly leisurely drive across the U.P., and then resting in Glen Arbor for a week before taking the trip back to Milwaukee...this time via your second cousins in Chicago.

Ambitious? Yes. Foolhardy? We didn't know.

So we decided to test it out before doing it for real.

We determined what a similar drive was from our house in Vancouver and took it as a test.

So it came to be that you had your first real baseball road trip at the age of 4 and a half months. Our seventh annual 4th Of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip was your FIRST annual baseball road trip. We took a 3 hour drive to the Tri-Cities, a 6-hour drive to Missoula, and another 6-hour drive back to Yakima, before doing one-last 3-hour drive home.

(By the way, as a baby, you've already been on Diamondvision screens four times. The cameras seek you out--you're a charmer.)

As we went on the trip, we discovered some rules to go by.

1. If you're asleep, we don't stop. No matter how enticing some side of the road thing is, we pass it up. And until hunger or bathroom needs are horribly oppressive, we'll keep you sleeping and get some miles behind us.

2. When you're awake, we'll stop pretty often to let you squiggle. Rest areas are best. And, indeed, I made a pre-trip list of TONS of state parks we could stop at along the route just in case you needed squiggle time. While you were cranky in the car occasionally, you were always pretty thrilled to be stopped and checking out the trees in some new place.

3. Every stop--even if me and your mom were just getting a candy bar and a bathroom break--featured boob time for you.

4. Sit-down meals are vastly preferable for all of us.

5. Dad is better at entertaining--but mom is better in the back seat because she's better at calming.

6. On the plane, at Alison's suggestion, we brought a bag of earplugs. Before we took off, we offered them to people in the rows around us. On all four legs of the trip, only one person took us up on our offer, although many others said they'd let us know if things got bad. But you never got bad. You chilled through the entire trip--only minor fusses. Our seatmates--who we'd won over as allies with our offer of earplugs--without fail talked about how awesome you were. They were right.

Hedgehog, you were so very good on that first trip! Sure, you got fussy. But I don't think it was the driving, to be honest. I think it was the boredom. Your seat still faces backwards, and when I lean over to figure out what you can see...well, you can't see a blasted thing from back there--just seat and sky.

Once we developed our rules--and perhaps once you had some experience with long trips--you were an absolute SUPERSTAR on the trip around Lake Michigan. And while I won't delude myself into thinking you'll have memories from this age, I can't help but wonder whether you'll come away with a sense of adventure from all of this.

(Incidentally, early returns indicate that you like sand, can live with or without water, and, like the Pacific Northwest native that you are, you're not a fan of sunshine.)

We're taking a quick plane trip to Las Vegas for our Fantasy Football draft next month. You're too young to gamble, but we'll sit by the condo pool a bit and see if we can't bring you to Circus Circus. Even at six months, you deserve as much of the Vegas experience as is possible. (Perhaps you'd enjoy topless shows. The experience for you would be much like the experience at the buffet table for me.)

After Vegas, we don't know when we'll travel next, but I'm confident you'll be ready for action whenever and wherever we go.

I have to tell you how immensely you've impacted my mindset on some things. I attended a student funeral last month...not one of my students, but a great kid who debated for a rival high school. I wanted to be there to pay tribute to her, but more to support her coach, who's a valued friend. I've been to student funerals before, and they've obviously been difficult. But going to this funeral--one for a kid I didn't know nearly as well--was harder than all of the previous funerals put together, and that's simply because of the fact of your existence. They had a slide show, and when I looked at this girl's baby pictures...well, it was just devastating--immeasurably more than before.

I hate it when people say this, but it's true--everything's so wildly different now that I can't imagine what life was like before.

And it's all very fun. My perfectionism frustrates me sometime because I so want everything to go beautifully for you, but it's still fun. These six months have felt like far more than that...time has actually slowed down for me. Summer vacation hanging out with you has helped that, actually...daily morning walks with you in the Beco provided loads of quality time. But I do think I'm succeeding in savoring our time together. In fact, I think that savoring has slowed time a bit--and since I'm given a finite amount of time on this planet, I'm grateful to you for that gift.

Incidentally, you're still good-looking. People coo you everywhere. One woman at the coffee shop even said "Wow, there's a real Gerber baby."

In any event, I appreciate you a heck of a lot. The world is better with you in it. And as you gain more skills (you're right on the edge of sitting, you've started eating (asparagus and bananas are early favorites), I'm enjoying the ride. I just hope you continue to be as happy as you seem.

Much love,

State Memories Project: North Carolina

My first trip to North Carolina was for Nationals in 2002. My second was for baseball—one of the best baseball experiences I’d ever had.

Asheville, NC is an incredibly gorgeous city—one I knew nothing about and was thrilled to discover. I had vegan nachos for dinner, served by a gorgeous tattooed granola girl named Jill. She invited me back to enjoy the fiddler they’d have playing that evening, but alas, I’m not into fiddling.

From my nachos, I went to McCormick Field, probably the most gorgeous ballpark I’ve ever been to. They’ve literally carved it out of the side of a mountain…there’s rock right alongside the left-field concourse. As I closed out my 2005 baseball trip (which began in Miami and ended here), I found myself enjoying a fantastic 1-0 pitchers duel (won by the Kannapolis Intimidators’ Ray Liotta over the Asheville Tourists’ Ching Lo).

But there was more than the game. I won two—TWO—contests that night. First, I won the trivia contest because I knew what former Asheville Tourist had homered in the opening game that season. And second, I threw a tennis ball into a hula hoop on the field after the game. For that, I also won.

After the game, I went to pick up my prizes. For the tennis ball, I won my choice of prizes from a box of cheap crap (I selected a computer mouse in the shape of Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR car). For the trivia, I won a 12-pack of Sierra Mist.

Problem: I was flying home the next morning. What the hell was I going to do with a 12-pack of Sierra Mist?

The answer was walking right by me. The victorious Kannapolis Intimidators were walking by on their way to boarding their bus. I stopped one of their stragglers (hitting coach Scott Long) and asked if the team would like some soda. He thanked me, shook my hand, and took the pop.

The way the stadium was set up, I was able to look into the bus from where I was in the stadium. So I watched as green soda cans popped up throughout the bus, gradually working from the front to the back. It was a cheap thrill. But what good is a gift if the receiver doesn’t know it’s a gift?

I tried to take a picture of a guy in the back holding his soda. It was a bad idea, of course, since it was night and the bus had tinted windows. But the guy saw me and started mugging. I mimed for him to hold up the soda. He did. Then I tried—by pointing at the pop and then pointing at myself—to indicate that the soda was a gift from me.

While there’s no way in hell he understood that, I sort of hope he did. And I hope someone makes it big and remembers my gesture (although, four years later, I still don’t recognize any major league names on the roster).

State Memories Project: New York

This is probably going to be a “you had to be there” event, but whatever. It was a night that I laughed until I hurt, and I don’t see how that can be beat.

Chamber Singers tour stopped in Buffalo in 1992 a few days after we were in Connecticut. We stayed with host families, and after our performance in a church that evening, we started the customary dance of people who didn’t know us trying to find us by asking around. Much to my surprise, a nice woman, 60 or so, walked right up to me. “Are you TRP?” I said I was, and asked her how she knew.

“Well, first I found Josh, who will also be staying with us tonight. Somebody told me to look for a football players, so that’s how I found him [Josh was quite buff]. When I asked him how I’d find you, he said to look for a stick with arms and legs, and that brought me right to you!” This was the first of many heavy laughs that night.

Our host family, the Schlifkes, took us out for pizza, beer, and wings. Buffalo, bay-bee! When we walked into the place, we were pleasantly surprised to find another set of Kenyon men, Neil, Bryon, and my good friend MCMC [see Indiana]. We sat with them and talked all night long.

I remember asking Mr. Schlifke about what was up with the Buffalo Bills, who had recently dropped their second Super Bowl. He responded defensively. MCMC and I, both from Denver, stated that we knew Super Bowl losses well. “In fact,” MCMC said, “Denver has lost more Super Bowls than any other team.”

“No, MCMC," I responded. "The Vikings have lost four as well. Please do your research.”

“I was not aware of the Minnesota issue!”

Yeah, it’s not as funny here.

Later, I started a very, very long story, and when I got to the end of it, I could not remember my host family’s name. So I wound up substituting a lyric from a Brahms song we were doing: “[wrapping up long story]…So, that’s how I became an English major, Mrs….Schaffe in mir Gott ein rein herz…”

Trust me, it was really hilarious. And, like the Connecticut stop a few days earlier, it was a welcome and enjoyable diversion from the daily grind of performances. I appreciated the Schlifkes’ sense of humor, the pizza, and the friends.

As this blog slowly dies...another is born

James Rosenzweig, a former colleague and continuing friend, has started an ambitious and interesting project (with an associated blog). James will read every work that has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction/novels. He's started in 1918 and will go right on forward to the present day. He's blogging as he reads, and inviting comments (it appears one need not read the books to comment on the blog, much like in our English classes...)

Check it out. Read along. Comment. He's an awesome dude.