It’s Been a Little While

They say it’s your birthday…

That girl, that girl she’s mine
Well I’ve know her since,
Since she was

A little girl with Spanish eyes
When I saw her first in a pram they pushed her by
Oh my, my how you’ve grown
Well it’s been, it’s been…a little while

U2, “In A Little While”

I will forever remember her concerned stare.

“Why is he taking a call”, S.M. had to be thinking, “when I am trying to concentrate on a math test?”

It had to be going through her mind.  Especially since I was growing increasingly animated and agitated at our social worker on the other end of the phone line.

This was the phone call that would eventually result in Katelyn coming home to us, but, of course, we didn’t know it at the time.  We only knew that we had her, and then lost her.  Naturally, I was beside myself.  He who hesitates is lost, and in this case, it was a child we would be losing.

What we didn’t know that across town, another couple was struggling with the same decision.  Another husband was getting the call.  Despite our supposed 15-20 minutes to make up our mind, our own personal delay had our social worker calling another couple.  Like me, the husband was getting the call.  Unlike me, he was saying “yes”.  I was caught up having to consult. It never occurred to the wife and I that we should have a pat answer in place.  But as in most placements through L.A. County, there were mitigating factors that weighed consideration, but did not lend themselves to immediate response.

Regardless, we had lost her.  Agony on the phone as I angrily called back the social worker.  With all shred of professionalism gone, my priorities, at that moment, was to try to, somehow, get back this child, lost to us because we couldn’t quite say “yes” immediately enough.

On her end, Amber, cognizant of my natural talent at alienating people, called our social worker to find out what all of this meant.

Just the day before, while attending the college graduation of the daughter of a close friend, we had gotten a similar call:  a 2-year-old being removed from the home because of a “failure” to thrive.  Our instincts had warned us off that child, but that same hesitancy had now betrayed our desire to immediately say “yes” in this case.  Once school had ended, and I had shuttled my students out of the door, the wife and I melted down in the respective emptiness of our work sites–my classroom, her office.  It was not subtle.

Meanwhile, that other husband who was quick enough to say “yes”, was having his own problems trying to reach his wife, who had had the misfortune of being on jury duty over in Santa Monica.  This child needed to be picked up almost immediately, before 5pm, and as it became late afternoon, he began to realize that there was no way they could make it happen in time.

Fate and circumstances meant that the happy ending would be ours.

Silently seething, another call on the phone, this time from Amber.  There was no discussion to be had, just a question to be answered:  whether we could or not–yes, we absolutely could–make it to Lynwood to pick up a little 3-day-old by 5pm.

Born on Monday, the birth mom had walked out on the baby by Tuesday.  Curiously, shadowy “relatives” had tried to take the child home Tuesday evening, only to be rebuffed by the hospital’s Maternity Ward.  Either way, today, Wednesday, the child was ready to go home.  Now that home was going to be ours.

Instant parenthood beckoned.  Even in saying “yes” in no way made us “ready”.  I picked up the phone and immediately called my colleague at home, wherein she generously volunteered a Boppy and a basinette.  Amber called her close friend, a mother of 3 herself, who immediately created a shopping list of necessary stuff we needed to buy.  Careening through the aisles of a nearby Target, we loaded up the car and raced over to the hospital.  It was approaching 5pm at this point.

But while we were on deadline, the maternity ward was apparently less bound.  We got directed there by the front desk, trying to juggle an ersatz diaper bag with a new outfit and a blanket, along with scrawled information we needed from the social worker.  Walking through the doors felt not unlike Luke Skywalker announcing his rescue to Princess Leia; neither the princess nor the duty nurse appeared to be all that impressed with us.

“Which child?” asked matter-of-factly.

Puzzled, the reply: “We get to choose?”. Apparently 5 kids were awaiting pick up on this night.

Finally, with all the bravado mustered by Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona, I state:  “Well, give us the best one!”

The wife and I like to think that our “choice” that night really was the best one, even if Katelyn, if she could have realized how clueless her new parents happened to be when they had no clue how to properly buckle her into her car seat, might have her down doubts about us.

Fortunately, Katelyn made it to her new home safely that night.  And our little family’s journey of discovery continues.  Today is our little girl’s 5th birthday.

We had wanted to become parents in the worst way, and when the day came to make that wish come true, it seemed, in the instant we thought we had lost our chance to go meet our little one, that the worst had happened.  We would have liked to have had the 9-month prep time to get ready, even if we only had what amounted to 90 minutes.   But what we would have liked leading up to that moment we got the call, is nothing when compared with what we have loved and continue to love in our now newly minted 5-year-old.

Happy Birthday Mi’ja.

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Bagging on Arte

Arte Moreno saves the planet?

Where I’m at, in Southeast LA County, happens to be Ground Zero, in my opinion, in Arte Moreno’s effort to take over the Greater Southern California Sports Market.  As I’ve noted before, it’s this huge geographic region that he’s come to see as “Los Angeles”.  But more specifically, given how it is centered between the Angels’ true home, Anaheim, and its fictional home, Los Angeles, a trip to the super market means seeing both teams’ merchandise featured prominently for sale as part of this battle for fan base.

In the meantime, the City of Los Angeles’ recent decision to ban single use plastic bags at grocery stores is just one of many local communities joining the trend towards encouraging reusable shopping bags.  Now this battle to be environmentally sound has been extended to local baseball teams.  As it turns out today, I was able to see, first hand, the spoils of war being waged between the Angels and Dodgers, even while shopping for food, which punctuated this statistical nugget from this morning’s LA Times:

The most startling statistic in baseball: The Angels’ attendance is down 14% this season, the largest drop in the major leagues.

The Angels sold more than 5,000 season tickets after they signed Pujols, and all those tickets count in the attendance figures. The Angels signed Pujols to hit, first and foremost, but no doubt owner Arte Moreno also could see an attendance crisis brewing.

The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers come to town this week — two big draws — and the number of empty seats could reveal the depth of the crisis. The Angels still were offering Goldstar ticket discounts for both series as of Saturday.

Standing in line at my local grocer, I glanced over at their reusable shopping bags, musing if I should grab a princess bag for Kate, given that her birthday is tomorrow and all.  Instead I saw mute testimony as to how Arte Moreno’s plan to take over Southern California was working out outside of Angels Stadium.  One shopper, looking at the choices given the 2 bags-for-$5 price, turned and asked the checker if they had any Dodger bags left.

No.  Sold out.  Plenty of Angel grocery bags though.

Choosing Poison with the Apple

Katelyn asks an expert if biting a poisoned apple was worth her reward afterwards. Disneyland’s recent price increases sure feel like a poisoned apple in that sense…

This year, daily passes for the Anaheim Disney parks — Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park — rose as of May 20 from $80 to $87. The biggest increase hit the estimated 300,000 park-goers…who buy premium annual passes that include parking. Those went from $499 to $649…”This is all about Cars Land,” said David Koenig, author of four books about Disney’s theme parks. “If it wasn’t for Cars Land, the increase would be $4 or $5. Park-goers will go to see Cars Land.” Koenig also noted that the big jump in annual pass fees may be intended as a cap on those visitors. Pass holders tend to be Southern California locals who don’t spend as much on food and souvenirs, and they can crowd out the big-spending out-of-towners, he said. “There is no room in the park and the parking lot for this many people to come back over and over and over,” he said.

While the initial mention of the Disneyland price hikes showed up in a small note in their Business pages, this morning’s L.A. Times shared out a much larger story about this fee increase’s impact.

With Katelyn’s 5th birthday coming this weekend, we’re taking advantage of our own annual passes and taking our little princess to Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel on Monday morning, followed by some pushing and shoving to get into the park itself to give her some theme park time as part of her birthday present.  Given that it’s Memorial Day, no doubt it will be busy, especially since the park didn’t blackout the day for Deluxe pass holders (as we had originally suspected they would).  The wife and I are Premium passholders, which gives us the run of the park, along with parking, and discounted pricing for many items and meals at the Disneyland’s stores and restaurants.  Kate, for her part, has the Deluxe pass, which limits her entry to certain days (most Saturdays and a chunk of Winter Break, for instance).  We made that decision based upon the price structure of the pass when we got it, as well as realizing that we wouldn’t be going to the park during the days that were blacked out as it was.  One of our friends, also a passholder likes to call that time “asscheek-to-asscheek”.

Fortunately for the wife and I, our annual pass renewal was due in March, so we re-upped for our third year.  Katelyn, for her part, has her pass up for renewal in July, and therein lies the big conundrum that this fee increase will mean for us.  The wife wants to upgrade her pass, while I’ve been content to allow the pass to remain at its current level.  We’d been paying monthly for the $379 Deluxe pass price, which will go up to $469 under the new price structure.  The wife’s thinking, prior to the pass price increase, was that the bump to $499 (last year’s price for the Premium pass) wasn’t that significant.  Unfortunately, with the price of the Premium pass now jumping to $649, we have to think hard about that, especially since our own passes will eventually come back up for renewal next year.  Sadly, it’s also got us rethinking ideas that possibly “gifting” some passes offered a good value for potential gifts.

While Disney is publicly stating that the prince increase is to provide “entertainment value”, I think a lot of us would feel better if they’d just admit that it might be all about building Cars Land over in Disney’s California Adventure.  Or not.  As a captive audience, Disneyphiles will continue to come irrespective of the pricing structure.  And if we, or others, didn’t buy or renew our annual passes, other park visitors will be getting off the parking trams each day to take our place.

As the article points out in its anecdotes, it’s not like we haven’t taken advantage of our passes.  We got our passes first, when Kate was still 3 and could get in free.  We’ve gone nearly 40 times in the 3 years we’ve had the pass.  We’ve even planned our own gifting for our little princess to coincide with merchandise purchases either in the park or at Downtown Disney’s World of Disney store, to take advantage of the 20% discount we get on things we buy there.  It represents a significant savings for us over buying similar items at the local Disney Store.  For instance, with her birthday on Monday, I headed down to Anaheim earlier this past week to buy Disney/Pixar “Brave” goodies for Katelyn to open on her birthday this Monday.  I saved over $30 on items we had planned on buying her anyway, which also would have included additional shipping and handling, had we gone through the Disney Store website.  Then, on Monday, when we go to Goofy’s Kitchen, we plan on using our pass yet again for the meal, in addition to getting our parking cost covered, since it comes automatically with the price of the Premium pass.

Do we take advantage of being passholders?  Absolutely, wherever and whenever we can.  From this morning’s story:

“If there is going to be resistance, it will be from locals,” said Gerner. After all, they’re more likely go multiple times in a year. To appease them, industry experts say theme park operators often unveil discount deals for area residents during lower attendance periods, particularly in the fall or winter months. But Disney fans such as Casado don’t want their visits to be limited to off-peak periods…Casado said she and her family try to visit one of the Anaheim parks once a month. “It hurts,” she said of the price hike, “because we count on that as our only entertainment.”

Making the decision to upgrade Kate’s pass and pay the $270 price increase will undoubtedly seem to constitute a similar commitment on our part.

Maybe that’s part of Disney’s plan all along.

Yeah, I Gotta Go, I’m Running out of Change

‘Cause I’m already gone / Felt that way all along

— U2, “Gone”

By now, everyone in my immediate circle at school and at home knows the news.  But I needed to call my dad.  Grabbing the phone, let this be an insight in case anyone has ever wondered where my cynical attitude comes from.  Go ahead and point to him…

“Dad, I’m moving schools!”

“Why, did you get fired?”

“NO!”

And so it went.

My closest friends learned about it first.  They were whom I needed to call, or go over to their classrooms to tell them in person.  I hated that part.  Save for 1970s clothes styles, I abhor significant change.  Moving schools after 15 years, my longest stint in one spot in the totality of my career, was significant change.  But it was time, even if I haven’t entirely convinced myself that I was ready.

The e-mail to the district office accepting the transfer was next, and I then felt safe telling my current crop of 6th graders.  Right before I told them, I immediately thought that what I was about to tell them was harder than breaking the news to my students that my mother had passed away.  It’s not that I expected them to be devastated–after all, I was metaphorically about to follow them out of the door.  It’s that in their faces, and among them were siblings of a number of my former students, I could see the faces of 400+ other students whom once were mine, at that school, with that history.  I was sewing the final stitches of my time at that school site, soon to be hidden and packed away, much like the boxes of old photographs currently tucked into the corner of my classroom, mute reminders of my earliest years as a teacher, and my initial attempts at trying to be a yearbook adviser.  I was even starting to look for homes, like for some soon-to-be-abandoned pets, for my 4 ceramic and plush bulldogs, representative of our school’s mascot.

It is over.  I couldn’t find a legitimate reason to stay, save for one, that I, like several of my closest colleagues–and friends, felt that the example set by one of our former colleagues, who taught at our school site for over 50 years, was an example worth following.  But that reason no longer was enough to mitigate the reality that as I neared my own 50th birthday, my time and ability as an educator to change my game, was growing short.  This new school will be a challenge, not for worse, but for good.  It represents one of the flagship schools of my district, a California Distinguished School.  Still, there is some irony in that my own school, with its Title 1 and PI status, was losing an experienced educator like me.  I am the type that should, by the fact that I had experience in working in such an environment, be staying.  I should not be leaving for, what almost everyone who has talked to me about my transfer, greener pastures.

Given that it is hellish to pack stuff for the move across the district as well, in the end, my own ennui wasn’t enough for me to not make the choice to accept this transfer.  I didn’t want to pack?  Really?  My own peace of mind was about to be unpacked as a result of this school transfer.  I’d get to start over, and for that I was ready.  After I fired off the e-mail to our district’s Assistant Superintendent for HR, I began to get the same level of excitement building up inside of me that my little girl is starting to exhibit when we talk to her about kindergarten next year.

Even a cynic like me deserves to be happy.  Of course, I’m mindful of the advice about whom the gods wish to destroy–they first them make happy.  I can only imagine the lightning bolt that’s coming.  Truth be told however, I had fallen into a rut, dug by my own hand, but I wasn’t seeing an easy way to get myself out of it, short of being handed a brand new shovel to dig it deeper.  Like some sort of deus-ex-machina, the end to my time  at my school, my only school, was like an end-of-season plot device that didn’t necessarily follow what preceded it.  There it was, nevertheless, to paraphrase Prince, walking in through the out door.

All platitudes aside, let’s see how these final few weeks go, to be followed by the summer of the packing and moving.  This is my undiscovered country, my own milestone, in what I hope represents the biggest and ultimately final move of my teaching career.  I don’t know that, of course, and it’s not like a “Future Me” is going to come back and warn me otherwise.

“You know, for kids!”

This is not Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

This is how fractured my thinking gets, and why I’ll likely burn in hell for far more than my agnostic leanings.  Kate is prepping for a performance of “It’s Cool in the Furnace” for the little guy’s choir at the church that Amber is taking her.  Each Sunday, Kate has supposed to have been practicing;  given the CD to help her when she’s not been with her choir mates, I’ve had an opportunity to learn these song lyrics even better than my daughter.  I’ve just returned from the dress rehearsal, and tomorrow night is her big performance

So as it went, one evening a while back, sitting with Katelyn as she settled down to sleep, the familiar strains of the musical’s closing number started playing on her CD player:

We bow down to God, He is the great king / We won’t bow down to another…

Hmmm.

When Kate had, at last, started snoozing away, I left the kid’s room and walked back to the front room and asked the wife if she realized that the songs the child was learning sounded like something out of a “Trent Reznor for Kids” album:

Bow down before the one you serve / You’re going to get what you deserve…

That’s me.  Head like a hole…

A Heart Bright and Bold

A selection of drugs used in chemotherapy to treat cancer. The needles used on me in the mid-1980s were somewhat larger…

A follow-up doctor’s visit means the nurse has to draw blood.  Small talk ensues:

“Sorry,” the nurse apologizes, as she sticks a needle into me.

“Oh, not a problem, I just wince and look away.  I’m a 27-year cancer survivor.  I’ve got a thing for needles ‘cuz of it.”

“Ah…”

“Yeah, I had to do old school chemo, with large syringes the size of grande burritos, all shoved into my blood stream in about 15 minutes…”

“Oh my.”

“I just look away.  The needle bothers me but only when I look it”

I guess I’m the same way when it comes to reflecting back upon my time as a cancer patient.  Of my life’s memories, it’s the one I dwell upon the least.  It’s not that it wasn’t important, but my lymphoma was dealt with straight away, with little complications beyond the nausea and hair loss (which, given my hairline as it was, was not much of a loss) and as my life has progressed from that time, I don’t think of it as much as one might expect a cancer survivor to do.

Nevertheless, events at school periodically bring me back.  For instance, as I’m usually regularly reading aloud chapter books to my students, reading Cynthia Kadohata’s Newbury-winning Kira Kira is one instance of a reminder, given that the book’s narrator’s older sister dies of lymphoma nearly identical to my own.   This year, one of my students is, himself, a lymphoma survivor.  Finally, one of my current school site’s charity fundraisers, begun several years ago during my own time as one of the school’s Student Council advisers, was with the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society and their annual “Pennies for Patients”.   Essentially a simple act of collecting pennies (or other currency from students), our school has gradually increased its yearly donations (around $900-$1000 annually) to the charity, topping out this year at $1500+ (of which I need to credit my successor as Council adviser for motivating our school to reach a number my partner and I could only hope to collect…)

But what really took me back was reading the obituary of the Rev. Kenneth A. Coates in the alumni magazine of the California Alumni Association.  He passed away in the late summer of last year, but as the magazine comes out quarterly rather than monthly, and relies upon alumni notices in order to post class updates and obituaries, I was only now seeing the news.

A fellow Old Blue, himself the son of two Cal alumni, I first met Rev. Coates when he was pastor of the Bayshore Community Church in Long Beach, around the time I was involved in the Kiwanis International Sponsored Circle K Club while a grad student in the mid-1980s at Cal State Long Beach.

Rev. Coates, a member of the East Long Beach Kiwanis Club, served as our Kiwanis adviser.  As I was new to the club, I didn’t initially have the connection to the Kiwanians that my fellow club members had.  In addition, his laid-back personality was in marked contrast to some of the more larger-than-life members who formed the bulwark of that club’s membership at the time.  But I remember after I started to grow ill in the Fall of 1984 into early 1985, how much the Kiwanians encouraged me to stay strong with the treatment, even as I was forced to temporarily drop out of school.  My surgery in January of 1985, led to a week-long hospital stay for my initial round of chemotherapy.

I was down at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, right off of Pacific Coast Highway, mostly being kept company by friends from school, as well as family members.  I don’t have much in the way of a consistent narrative memory to my hospital stay.  I remember it being mostly overcast for much of my time at Hoag, and I remember the difficulty in dealing with the first dose of chemo, which did go to work immediately on the rapidly growing tumor which had been growing over my right eye.  I also remember the restless nights, as my body temperature was having a difficult time trying to work with the infections throughout my immune system.

But I also remember Rev. Coates coming to visit.  My entire family does, as a matter of fact.  I can’t recall exactly who was with me that day, besides my mom and dad, but I looked up, and there was Rev. Coates, holding his bike helmet in his hand, in his suit, bike clips on his pants legs.  He had peddled down PCH to Hoag, from Belmont Shore, specifically to see how I was doing and holding up.  He stayed for a bit, sharing conversation with my parents and me, making it a point of connecting our shared legacy of having been at Cal, albeit nearly 40 years apart, and how that meant something.

Obviously, it did, as I still remember that visit that day.  A small gesture, it gave me a glimpse into this man’s tremendously large heart.  More than anything else that went on in that hospital room during that week 27 years ago, his visit represented my single lasting memory that I managed to hang on from my chemically-addled experience of the week.

Thusly, to see his name in the “California” magazine, after all this time, took me back.

Kenneth A. Coates, July 17. Born in 1921 to two Cal alumni. Served churches in Hillsboro and Portland, OR, El Cerrito and Long Beach, as well as an international church in Kobe, Japan. He retired in 1986 to Pilgrim Place, Claremont, here he was active in Amnesty International, tutored in a local school, and for 15 years was volunteer chaplain at Peppermint Ridge, Corona, a home for the developmentally disabled.

A graduate of San Ramon High School, he set a track and field record at the 1935 California State Meet in Fresno at an incredible 9.6—only two tenths of a second off Jesse Owens’s world record of 9.4. He attended Cal on an athletic scholarship, and continued to compete in track. He was also a member of Alpha Delta Phi alumni. He spent four years in Europe during WWII as a First Lieutenant of an anti-aircraft battalion. Early in his career, he taught industrial arts at Oakland Tech High School. He later fell into real estate where he spent most of his career, first as a broker and later as a developer and investor. Robert is survived by his wife, Maria; children Juli, Anna, Alexandra ’92, and Robert Jr.; and two grandchildren.

He touched many lives during his time on this earth, and I am sure that with others who crossed his path over the years, they came to the same affirmative conclusions about Rev. Coates’ true character.  Even in my borderline-agnostic leanings these days, he truly represented what the notion of a minister should be.  I often joke to my students that I’m no role model–I’m an example.  All kidding aside, Rev. Coates was one of those examples that I would definitely point out as being worthy of emulation.   In the words of Cal’s Alma Mater, his was a “heart, bright and bold”.   Rest in Peace, Reverend.

(NOTE:  A more detailed obituary is here.)

Noee Line on the Horizon

With an impending District writing test, I was trying to give my kids some last minute practice on Response to Literature.  I came across this poem:

YESEES AND NOEES

The Yesees said yes to anything
That anyone suggested.
The Noees said no to everything
Unless it was proven and tested.
So the Yesees all died of much too much
And the Noees all died of fright,
But somehow I think the Thinkforyourselfees
All came out all right.

— Shel Silverstein

I am a Noee.

Before I could call myself one, I discovered that fact a year ago yesterday when I watched my little girl break her leg on a slightly hidden tree root in our backyard.

It was an innocent enough event.  Our young Boston Terrier (and this blog’s inspiration), Dory, had been cooped-up inside for most of the day, and I felt that running the pup a bit before dinner made perfect sense.  After picking Kate up from preschool, we headed home to go play with the dog.  Needing to first clean up the backyard a bit, I allowed Katelyn to amuse Dory while I grabbed the scooper.  Turning my back for just a minute was all it took.  Our rambunctious terrier, excited by the attention she now had, raced maniacally about the backyard and then had dropped her head and launched herself like a missile at Kate.  Kate, in trying to get out of the way, spun away and because our backyard is slightly graded, fell down and landed on her tibia directly onto the hidden tree root.  The crying eventually proved itself to be far more than the simple embarrassment of falling down.  She couldn’t walk on her leg.  I first took it as her typical position as Drama Queen but when the evening went on, and she couldn’t (and wouldn’t) put weight upon her leg, and then was unable to stand up in the bathtub, my internet search provided all I needed to know.

Off to the ER we went…

In the end, Katelyn dealt with the inconvenience of the resultant cast far better than I did.  She had to miss preschool, despite a wheelchair we got for her (–and eventually a walking boot but that’s a whole other story…) and got through the 6 weeks of recuperation none the worse for wear, even looking forward to the trip to her orthopedist in Newport Beach because of the feral bunnies that seemed to magically appear out of the bushes surrounding the Doctor’s office to “greet” Katelyn on her visits.

Also, her 4th birthday, 2 weeks after her accident, was marked by her presence in her kid-sized wheelchair, including a personal visit from Rapunzel at our house for her birthday, and then an extended audience with Rapunzel at Disneyland’s “Tangled:  Meet and Greet”, thanks to her wheelchair drawing so much positive attention.  It grew infectious.  While I wouldn’t recommend having a child break a limb to have a wonderful day at Disneyland, it’s definitely worth it should it happen, given how much they dote upon the child as a result.

Balance beam work at the child’s gymastics class. She’s since moved on to a more manageable and lower balance bar. I, for my part, just wish the class HAD a bar for my own nerves while watching her…

Still, that was the extent of it.  Katelyn is so over her fall and subsequent break.  I, for my part, am not.

On this Mother’s Day, it seems somewhat ironic to point out that my own mother’s pronounced weakness and caution made her a firm “Noee”.  Frustratingly, this was an attribute passed on to me.  It was bad enough when I became the type who hated getting dirty outside from playing to then have to deal with a daughter who liked dirt.  Even more so, Katelyn likes to tumble wherever she could, and climb on what she can, thusly making every trip to the park playground, every turn on her bike, every step upon her gym class’ balance beam, a reason to close my eyes and grit my teeth until, not surprisingly, she emerges unscathed.  Still, I am destined to die of fright from this.

I have become a walking chronicle of the “Worst Case Scenario” handbook, trying to decide what, in the way of disaster, could befall the kid before she engages in something even the least bit dangerous.  After all, her broken leg was not the result of risk-taking behavior–the child was playing with a puppy, for crying out loud!–and, of course, I’m expecting a broken bone or concussion to lurk behind every facet of her waking activities.

Ironically, like the dog, Dory, who spends a chunk of her free time in the past, in her case smelling the premises for past clues on a regular basis, I, too, have spent way more time than I should, regretting the actions of what should have been a routine Thursday afternoon, punctuated, of course, by the slight crack of a 3-year-old’s lower leg bone breaking.  I admire our neighbor’s backyard, which lack the shade trees which give a cool respite even on a hot day, because their manicured lawn is absent the tree roots in our backyard.  I think to myself that Katelyn would never have fallen in their backyard.

Finally, to put my own fears to rest by confronting them, Amber and I decide to accept an old playground set from close friends.  Yesterday, my dad and I get around to assemble it, with the slide depositing its rider near the spot where Kate landed on the tree root a year ago.  After cleaning it up and drying it off, Katelyn has named her new haunt “Manny” (go figure) and has set up shop.  She’s eagerly playing outside, and I’m just willingly watching carefully and allowing my girl to be herself.

WAIT! It’s not cleaned off yet. We have to wipe it down first!!!! 

I still like to consider myself a Noee, just for principle’s sake.  But at least in this instance, I “thoughtformyself”.  It should come out all right.

Shouldn’t it?

At the Well Once Too Often

All the inspirational words in the world, all the little test-taking tricks, all the crossed fingers, doesn’t help kids who are burned out.

My kids are burned out as they head into their biggest challenge of the testing window–the 6th grade state math test.  After a promising beginning, they’ve struggled through the rest of the year, with the law of diminishing returns taking hold as even the strongest of my math students have watched their scores slowly fall, or, in some cases, flat out crater as we’ve moved into the final weeks.  Tinkering, re-teaching, reassuring, remeasuring, have all been the focus of each day leading up to today, but regardless, I feel like I have 32 basket cases on my hands.

I can’t really blame a couple of my girls who tell me that they’d rather go to McKinley High School (the fictional school depicted in fantasy world of Glee), because they never see those kids ever attending to academic issues.  “True that”, I tell myself.  Maybe that series will eventually end by having the state of Ohio taking over the high school for failing to reach their AYP goals…but I digress.  I’ve got real kids with real testing issues right now, ones that can’t be helped by belting out middle aged show tunes on a school bus somewhere.

On Friday, they have to take our district’s 6th grade writing test.

Next week, they will take our district’s middle school Algebra readiness test.

The following week, they’ll take our district math benchmark.

After so much testing, I am left only with the hope that Ben Franklin wasn’t prophetic:

I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.

The Orioles! Band of Misfits

You’ve been waiting for this — meaningful baseball, exciting baseball — forever. You’re like someone who’s been locked in a cellar for years and they just threw open the storm doors and you’re gulping the fresh air.

But you’re wary, too. Wary of giving your heart totally to this team lest you get burned again. Fine, I get it. Let’s face it, you’ve been emotionally scarred. Fourteen straight seasons of losing baseball — bad baseball — would do that to any fan.

So even a thrilling win like Sunday’s and two series sweeps of the hated Yankees and Red Sox hasn’t won you over completely.

You’re jaded, cynical, skeptical, pick whatever word you want.

In the back of your mind, you’re thinking: will there be another mid-season collapse?

Kevin Cowherd, Baltimore Sun

Darnell McDonald pitched the 17th inning for the Red Sox and gave up the game-winning home run to Orioles outfielder Adam Jones. Jones belted a three-run blast into the Monster seats at Fenway Park. McDonald was the losing pitcher. (Photo: Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe Staff)

There was a point today when I simply ignored the movie theater’s plea to ignore the smart phone while out with my little girl today, and I just used my Oriole cap to cover up the light so I could check for updates on today’s 6+ hour, 17-inning game, a 9-6 win punctuating a sweep of  Boston in Fenway Park.  As luck would have it, even the hapless Kevin Gregg (2 IP, 4 Ks, 0 BBs) was able to keep the Bosox in check long enough for Adam Jones to win it in the 17th.

This season is moving beyond the cuteness of hearing Katelyn ask to watch an occasional Oriole highlight on my iPad. “I want to watch my favorite bird, with the black head and orange beak!”  Now the damn team is demanding that I start to believe again.  “Why not?” is no longer starting to sound so 1989…  

This was the slogan for the overachieving 1989 team. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / September 15, 2009)

It would be so easy, but not quite yet.

Still, on this 6th day of May 2012, a 19-9 record, 1st place in the AL East, and the best record in baseball.  Naturally, those of us with long enough memories, recall the 19-9 start of 2005.  We also recall the 55-79 finish to that year.  Still, 74 wins would be an improvement over recent years for the franchise.  But now, in the midst of this past week and a half, the expectations have been bumped up a bit.  However, as David Schoenfield notes:

Look, playing in the AL East, it’s not going to get easier for the Orioles, so they’ll need this pen to continue pitching lights-out baseball. Their next 32 games: Four against the Rangers, three against the Rays, two against the Yankees, two at the Royals, three at the Nationals, three against the Red Sox, three against the Royals, three at the Blue Jays, three at the Rays, three at the Red Sox, three against the Phillies. Whew.

What is apparent about this year’s Orioles however, is how each team member is working to pick each other up.  Past teams would have collapsed when the Red Sox came back to tie the score today, after the Orioles had been up 5-0.  Past teams would have collapsed the way in which in the team stumbled around Friday night in the series opener, itself also an extra-inning win.  Yet the Orioles continue to find ways to win, and even the decision to put Chris Davis into the game to pitch was evidently planned by Buck Showalter ahead of time.  

Nevertheless, the Texas Rangers come into Baltimore tomorrow.  And the weirdness might have reached its apex today.  Worse, the Orioles might be preparing to bring back Miguel Tejada, mainstay of that failed 2005 team, reminders of the bad old days of vitamin/steroid shots gone wrong, not to mention teams that just didn’t sit well within themselves.

This team, right now, doesn’t feel that way.  In fact, right now, it’s hard to feel anything at all, except, maybe, shock.  Questioning it is just too hard;  it’s much easier to just sit back and enjoy it, no?  And enjoy it for as long as it might last, because two weeks from now, I might be preparing to get ready for the return of college football.

Stuck on the Off-Ramp

Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium of Anaheim) under construction in August 1965. Taken from approximately where the Anaheim Stadium Amtrak Station currently stands. The stadium opened in April 1966. (Photo: Evan Wohrman)

No doubt in my mind that if Arte Moreno could, Aaron Rodgers would be playing for the Milwaukee Packers, since no one has ever heard of Green Bay, Wisconsin…I mean, I get it.  Gene Autry didn’t want his team called the “Long Beach Angels” when he was looking to move out of Dodger Stadium shortly after birthing the team in the early 1960s. He wanted the team to have its own identity, and its own geographic region with which to grow his fan base.  Hence, the “California Angels” were born:

When Gene Autry was looking to move his team out of Los Angeles and into the suburbs in the early 1960s, his first option was Long Beach. Autry liked the location, midway between Los Angeles and Orange County, with easy freeway access. The plan was to build a stadium on property that is now El Dorado Regional Park. Negotiations between the Angels and the city progressed until hitting what appeared to be a minor snag: What to call the team. The city demanded the team be called the Long Beach Angels. Autry, thinking the name sounded too minor league, insisted on the Los Angeles Angels or the California Angels. The city held out for Long Beach . . . and that was the deal breaker.

Construction of Anaheim Stadium (with landmark guides), February 5, 1965
Herald-Examiner Collection; Los Angeles Public Library.

What’s important to note about Autry’s original desire, as to the location of this Long Beach stadium, was the freeway access.  Of course, anyone who has attempted to exit off the Cerritos/Spring Street exit off the 605 Freeway on a busy weekend afternoon when there’s an event at El Dorado Park might beg to differ with respect to the freeway access.  But moving to Anaheim, where Disneyland had been established 10 years before, allowed the Angels to try to build upon the idea that there could be other destinations in Southern California that didn’t have to be in Los Angeles.

It’s also ironic to note that one of the original sites considered for Disneyland was the land later to be so attractive to Dodger owner Walter O’Malley.

For Arte Moreno of the Angels though, Anaheim isn’t attractive enough, because it’s not Los Angeles.  Therefore, just a like a kid who squints his eyes and tries to “squeeze” something between his fingers off in the distance to show his “strength”, Moreno decided that calling Anaheim “Los Angeles” would therefore make it so.  It’s just another lesson that the 1% teaches those of us in the 99%.  Just like the lesson Arte Moreno is about to teach us about how he not only brought the Angels to Los Angeles, he’d now *actually* bring the Angels to Los Angeles:

Pull out of the OC sometime after 2016, and Party Arte Moreno thinks he could be heading a caravan up Interstate 5 toward Staples-ville. It’s Battle Los Angeles, amigo. Get it? We’re not sure the Angels’ owner really does here. The billboard baron has been artfully dodging questions about some crazy end game that he has stuck in his noggin – now that “Los Angeles” is legally attached to his franchise’s name, he’s doing all he can to rally the thinkers at AEG to monkey around with this idea of building him a downtown L.A. ballpark. It can happen after his latest contract out with the city of Anaheim comes up in four years. Arte was indeed admiring the view out of Tim Leiweke’s skyscraper offices recently, pointing out plots of land where he could envision his own money-ballyard. Good luck with that, Leiweke likely told him. Let us know how that works…

Lost in the nightmare of trying to imagine traffic armageddon in and around the location of Moreno’s new “crown jewel” in downtown Los Angeles, is why he’d consider picking up the torch for AEG’s hopes of building a downtown sports stadium, without even considering the other location for a new sports stadium:  the Walnut/Industry crossroad location of the “Los Angeles Football Stadium”:

THE FACTS

Central location, easy access and plenty of on-site parking

Fact: 20 minutes east of Los Angeles, 15 minutes north of Disneyland

Fact: Equidistant from Hollywood and Newport Beach

Fact: Within an hour of over 15.5 million people – that’s 1/19 people in the USA

Fact: At the crossroads of two major freeways and four counties

The “Los Angeles Football Stadium”: lost in the hoopla over AEG’s Farmer’s Field in downtown Los Angeles, does this location offer possibilities for baseball should Moreno insist upon moving the Angels out of Anaheim?

If Walt Disney, Walter O’Malley, and Gene Autry could all see the wisdom of trying to get as easy freeway access for their attractions as they could, why is it that Arte Moreno, in addition to his geographic illiteracy, flunks history class as well?

Does the “Grand Crossing” stadium location work for a potential baseball team?  I have no idea if Ed Roski and his people behind the scenes in trying to attract notice of the NFL to bring a football team back to L.A., have even given a single thought to bringing baseball instead, in this instance Arte Moreno, to their stadium plans.  But admittedly, the idea has its appeal in terms of the property in place, the freeway access, and opportunity for Moreno to continue to build upon his long term plan of “branding” the Angels’ place upon Southern California.

But in his obsession with L.A., Moreno is not just missing the forest for the trees, he’s missed the off-ramp–or rather, he’s stuck on the off-ramp, of the 110 Freeway traveling north, at rush hour, while trying to get into this downtown stadium he apparently wants.  For all of his supposed marketing genius, how he’s misread the Southern California sports market is maddening, not unlike how Donald Sterling failed to take advantage of an opening that Anaheim offered his Clippers when the Ducks became the first tenant of the Anaheim Arena (now the Honda Center).  Arte Moreno is stuck in the traffic of his own self-aggrandizement, not trusting that, perhaps, the Cowboy, Gene Autry, knew what he was doing with his team in the first place.