Tag Archives: friends

So Long, Freedom Field

Version 2The name carries with it a sense of opportunity and promise, a spiritedness that accompanies America’s pastime. Freedom Field. Nestled in a quiet neighborhood at our local sports park, the turf field features a tranquil Northwest backdrop, with evergreens towering beyond the outfield, a cluster of bright green alders poised gracefully in front of them, an American flag in center, and a lighted scoreboard a little to its left. Lights surround the field, too, slowly coming to life for the week’s 7 o’clock games. The sports park is complete with a skate park, snack shack and announcer’s booth.

By Monday night, 47 twelve-year-olds on eight Little League teams in our community will have played their last regular-season games there.

It’s the place all the young boys aspired to play when they started off their careers in Tee Ball. They practiced and played at various neighborhood venues—one obscure park was tucked back so far that no one even knew it existed. As they moved up through the years, from Rookies 1 and 2 to Farm and Minors, the locations changed, each level taking the boys to a different elementary school. Every season, though, they’d look forward to playing at least one game at Freedom—it has always symbolized the Big Leagues to them. As the home field of the Majors division, they now proudly play there three times a week. It has become the quintessential community gathering place, as we ask “Heading down to Freedom tonight?” or meet up to watch a neighbor’s son play and order a Freedom burger. It is a beloved springtime hangout where families and friends take in a ball game and socialize, support, connect and catch up.

Some of these boys have been friends since preschool; they now walk the halls of middle school together. They are competitors on the field and the best of buds off of it. They ride the school bus together and sit next to each other in band; they zing fastballs across the plate and smash homeruns over the outfield fence.

As parents, we also share a common experience. We wince as foul balls pop into the parking lot, waiting for the ‘crash’ atop some poor soul’s car. We hold our breath a little as one of our boys gets hit by a pitch or clutches his arm or leg after a base running or sliding mishap. We huddle under tarps during downpours. We talk hit vs. error in scorekeeping, discuss the latest book we’ve read, grumble about the sixth grade history assignment. Dads pace. Moms chit-chat.

But some of my favorite memories at Freedom are not just about baseball. They’re the moments between games, or after. When a sea of red, royal blue, black, gold, navy and orange crowds behind the backstop or meanders along the skate park to enjoy a game of flyers up or pickle behind right field. A colorful medley of friends from all teams, hanging out, playing wall ball, eating burgers at the picnic tables, sitting in the stands to watch another game.

A few Thursday nights ago while we were driving down to a friend’s game, my son said, “I don’t want Little League to be over.” I agreed. The realization that it is drawing to a close seemed to hit him. And I don’t think he was just talking about the games. I think it was also that sense of community and togetherness.

Sure, baseball will continue. They’ll have a couple post-season tournaments. Some will go on to play All Stars, Select or Intermediate. But as twelve-year-olds, this will soon be it for them as far as what they’ve known: the 46’ pitching distance, 60’ base paths and 200’ homerun fences. Their days at Freedom—their field— will be a thing of the past. Another rung on the ladder of their growing-up years. Another reminder of how fast it all goes.

My favorite author, Harlan Coben said it best when he shared these words with the crowd when he was inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence before the start of the 2013 Little League Baseball World Series Championship game. “I don’t remember my stats. I don’t remember my batting average. I don’t remember wins and losses,” he said. “But I remember my parents in those stands, and that, my young friends, is the memory I hope you cherish above all else.”

I agree with him fully. But I’d like to take it a step further.

I hope they remember the wall ball. I hope they remember eating cheeseburgers and drinking Gatorade on the picnic tables outside the skate park on a sunny afternoon. I hope they remember trying to out-scramble each other for foul balls just to get a free 25-cent candy from the snack shack.

But mostly, I hope they remember—and cherish— that sea of friends that moved like a pack around their field, Freedom Field.

Balls in. Coming down.

So long, Freedom Field.

You hold a special place in the hearts of these twelves.

Fall, Change & Community In The Air

The turnaround began on an ugly late-August day. Not ugly outside, just inside — my head. It was a Saturday, to be precise, the morning I was to do a 17-mile run for my New York City Marathon training. As the miles built, and the time seemed to drag – so did my body. Negative thoughts and self-talk gripped me, soon overtaking everything positive about the quiet morning. By the time I got home, words like “pathetic,” “misery” and “stupid marathon” escaped my lips. I grabbed the trusty Louisville Slugger from the garage, and like a grown-up version of Whack-a-Mole, started pounding the lawn. My husband stood by, quietly offering words of encouragement. “If I was a quitter, I’d quit,” I declared. Upon which I berated myself even further for the poor word choice: “If I were a quitter, were a quitter…”

I didn’t recognize myself after that run. More to the point, I didn’t recognize my feelings about running. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t fun. I questioned why I was even doing the Marathon, wishing I’d simply gotten my money back from the one cancelled three years ago. Instead of keeping the negatitivy to myself though, like any good sister, I shared it with mine. Every pessimistic thought and emotion, I dumped on her. I was brutally honest. In talking about solutions to work through my crabby mindset, the idea popped up to run 18 miles with her the following weekend. Secretly, I rejected it. “Why drive all the way to Portland to be miserable? Why slow her down? And her friends?” I thought of every excuse in the book not to go. But the idea of one last summertime Hurrah for my boys won out and we planned to head South.

It was clear to me after that run that something needed to change and that my training couldn’t continue like it was. The peaceful solitude that had once carried me through my solo runs had been replaced by dread and defeat.

Upon arriving in Portland, my sister directed me to the guest room where a book awaited me, Tales from Another Mother Runner. I opened it to find an inscription from one of the editors: “When the going gets tough…lean on your sister and draw strength from her and other mother runners.” I swallowed hard at this reality check. I realized I wasn’t going to get through my downward running spiral alone.

The next day we set out for 18 miles. We picked up some of her best running friends early on. Wonderful and inspiring ladies that I’d met and run with before, they listened to my recent travails. We talked cross training, over training, moon phases. They got it. They understood. They offered insight and encouragement. And just like the words in the book, I drew strength from them. After that 18 miles I was like a new person, a renewed person. Hopeful. Positive.

When I returned to Washington that week, I carried on with my newfound community-seeking skills. I asked a running friend, the captain of our Ragnar team, if I could meet up with her and some ladies two Saturdays later to do part of my training’s longest run, twenty, with them. She replied with an enthusiastic “yes.” I asked my dearest running friend if she was available at any time that same morning to do a couple miles with me. As it turned out, she unselfishly skipped her spinning class to do the last three with me. And stood there afterwards, coach-like, reminding and encouraging me to stretch.

My training changed after those runs in which I called upon my community. I no longer viewed myself as a slow, sluggish old snail. I no longer saw myself finishing with the 80-year-olds. Once I leaned on and drew strength from all those mother runners, I saw myself through their eyes: strong, capable, ready.

Community.

In two days I’m taking off for New York City, flying 2,082 nautical miles away from my husband, boys, and my immediate community. I get to run the New York City Marathon alongside my sister, with my mom, aunt and cousins there to cheer us on. “Grateful” doesn’t quite cover the emotion—in every ounce of my being I feel blessed.

There are also friends and family in Washington, California, Florida, on the East Coast and beyond who I want to share it with. Ones who’ve offered encouragement, prayers, support. The community I’ve relied on stretches far and wide; people I’ve leaned on when the going got tough, who I’ve drawn strength from through the years.

We have a doctor friend who doesn’t have a fax machine. Doesn’t use one. Doesn’t seem to need it. He sticks with phone, mail—the more traditional modes of communication. I admire that about him—that he conducts his business in the tried-and-true ways that have worked for him through the years. I suppose there’s the flip side: faster records, more instantaneous communication. But he’s not swayed by the changing tides of communication, and like I said, I respect that.

I, too, have been comfortable sticking with more traditional modes of communication: email, texts, phone calls—it has always felt more personal, more real, more about talking and checking in with people than “liking.”

But I have ever so slowly come to the realization that there’s only one way to share this New York City Marathon experience with my community—and to continue to feel everyone’s presence and support while I’m there. A way to keep in touch across the miles—to share the Mets mania, Halloween in Manhattan and the Finish Line in Central Park. In a sense, it’s like taking everyone with me. And it’s no longer by lurking, eavesdropping, stalking—or hiding behind— my sister’s or husband’s accounts.

So thank you, to my community, for accompanying me on this journey.

I’ll see you in New York.

On Facebook.

Love—And The Sound Of Voices—Never Fails

Three voices.

Two phone calls.

One visit.

One call lasted one minute, seven seconds; the other eleven minutes, twenty-two seconds; the visit five days.

This week, I got to say “I love you” to three of the girls I grew up with.

And they said it to me.

It was simple, yet powerful.

It lifted me up.

We’ve gone through just about everything together: playground feuds, slumber parties, bra freezing.

Graduations. Weddings. Births. Deaths.

Miles now separate some of us, but we remain close.

Last night, as I hung up the phone with one and emerged from the quiet hiding place of the garage, I was struck by a sense of thankfulness.

To have heard their voices. To have shared conversations.

One was brief. One carried on for hours and days.

Not text messages. Not emails.

Voices.

They brought to mind all the things we’ve been through; and the things we have yet to experience.

Their voices and the conversations connected us.

They brought a sense of togetherness.

Near and far. High and low.

That feeling of thankfulness has carried me into the weekend.

I’m thankful for our long, rich history and for all the times we’ve shared fits of giggles and buckets of tears.

For the chance to say —and hear—”I love you.”

For the sound of their voices.

And for love—and friendship—that doesn’t end.

Lyrical Geniuses

We all know the songs. The ones we cheerfully sing along to and then, lo and behold, discover that the words aren’t what we think they are. It may be when we’re reading liner notes. Or doing karaoke. Or it may even come through the wisdom of a friend who gently points out that our version of the song is incorrect. Musical life as we know it comes to an end. I recall many such instances. In high school, a girlfriend happily sang “You Can’t, Huretha” instead of “You Can’t Hurry Love” (which, quite honestly, didn’t sound too strange. It’s just that nobody had heard the name ‘Huretha’ before). One of my boyfriend’s buddies disdainfully pointed out “it’s ‘make-up,’ Kira, not ‘mink coat,'” during “Money For Nothing.” And then there’s my husband, who repeatedly chanted, almost zombie-like “Arizona Hippie” rather than “I Don’t Know Anything” by Mad Season. The phenomenon can even extend to bands. One night at a Van Halen concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater, my college friend enthusiastically cried out “Cat Scratch Fever!” as the lengthy musical intro began. “Uh, wrong concert,” we told her.

But as I learned over Thanksgiving weekend, when it comes to the males in my family singing— and I use that term loosely—Bon Jovi, I take the misinterpretations a little bit more personally.

We were turning into our favorite drive-thru coffee shop near my in-law’s house on the way to the beach Saturday morning, listening to one of my all-time favorite CDs, “Slippery When Wet.” The beginning of “Livin’ on a Prayer” swelled through the car, conjuring up many happy images of concerts past.

Suddenly, my husband Mo belted out “Johnny used to work on the docks…”

I tried to conceal my horror.

“It’s Tommy,” I quietly informed him.

“Tommy?… I always thought it was Johnny.”

“The song’s only been out about 25 years…I can understand how it would be kind of confusing,” I replied.

Having recently returned from the East Coast—even flying into and out of Newark— he then proceeded to ‘sing’ “Tommy” at least eight times in his best New Jersey accent.

I bit my tongue.

Later that afternoon as we were waiting for the ferry to take us home, I walked along the dock with my four-year-old, holding his hand as we looked for starfish and crabs. Sunny and crisp, it was a delightful maritime stroll. As we walked along, I heard him singing quietly.

“What are you singing?” I asked.

“Oh…living on the land….”

Again, I tried to conceal my horror. After all, he’s four.

“It’s actually “livin’ on a prayer,” I casually told him.

“Oh…living on the land…”

I didn’t pop the CD in the rest of the weekend.

My conclusion? Bon Jovi CDs are best reserved for things like solo road trips, girls’ weekends and pre-concert gatherings. And beware: the Arizona Hippie—and his offspring— lives.

Trust In The Taper

I am officially into my NYC Marathon taper. For the next two weeks—until the big day, November 4—I’ll be running significantly less than I have been. While I will certainly enjoy a little extra time to sleep in, it’s a strange feeling to know that I’ve put in the miles and minutes and to realize that the bulk of my training is behind me—the hay is in the barn, as I’ve been told—and I’m now in the phase where I let my body rest, relax and prepare.

The November issue of Runner’s World magazine has a graphic in a story about tapering. It reads “KEEP CALM AND TRUST THE PROCESS.” Running —as it always does, mirrors real life—I find the idea to be one that’s easier said than done. And while outwardly I may appear to be keeping calm, and even think that I’m doing so, the charred baby running out of a burning house to spitefully stick out its long, lizard-like tongue at me in my dream tells me differently.

But here’s what I’ve discovered the past couple of days. While all my running has been solo, keeping calm and trusting the process relies heavily on other people. It’s taking a step back and taking a look around. It’s knowing that my sister—who likes flying about as much as I like the Dallas Cowboys—is taking a red-eye by herself to be by my side. It’s spending an afternoon at McDonald’s PlayLand with my trusted running pal, swapping stories, sharing laughs, talking about the marathon and pondering new goals. It’s hearing a friend’s voice two states away, realizing that even though we’re not together, I still feel like I’m standing next to her on the beach, and that really, we ARE together. It’s hanging out at a preschoolers’ Halloween party eating Mummy Dogs & cupcakes and being surprised and touched by a thoughtful card and token of inspiration for the trip East.

Whether it’s running or life, I don’t think Keeping Calm and Trusting the Process is something we just do alone, internally. It comes from all around: from friends, family, community and words of support. It comes from letting people in. It comes from being surrounded by people—near and far—who believe in you.

As I take these two weeks to trust in the taper—and enthusiastically carbo load on New York pizza and bagels—I also carry with me a heaping dose of gratitude: for the experience, and for the friends, family, well wishers and fellow runners who believe in me.

Chickafee, Charlie

We’ve been playing a lot of kickball in our front yard this summer. Our ball of choice has been a slick, lightweight plastic Lightning McQueen one which has frequently made its way over the neighbor’s fence. Since it’s a game our whole family has been enjoying—and is one I’ve always loved—I decided it was about time that we get an authentic playground ball. The familiar, classic, textured red rubber kind that brings with it all kinds of schoolyard memories: dodgeball, court dodge and various other games. I remember the sting and slap of it, the red marks it would leave on my arms as I held back tears after being pelted repeatedly by the boys. My girlfriends and I also liked to play Charlie’s Angels with one. We’d take turns being Sabrina, Kelly and Jill; the girl who was Jill (Farrah) would sometimes don my glamorous-looking long coat with a faux-fur lined hood. Lithely and Angel-like, we’d run around the playground acting out some storyline of intrigue or espionage, pursuing bad guys, using the rubber balls as bombs. Until the day we got busted by the Yard Duty teachers and had to stop playing.

Kickball was another recess favorite of mine, with one memory being especially vivid. It was probably First or Second grade. I was decked out in a dress, probably some polyester creation handmade by Frannie. I don’t recall the specifics of the play; all I know is that I was out. Maybe I’d gotten called out on base or maybe it was a pop fly. Whatever it was, I was bummed and humiliated as I started my jog to the backstop. It felt like the Trot of Shame. As I made my approach, I noted that there was a mud puddle covering home plate. In my eyes it must’ve looked about the size of a glass of water spilled on the kitchen table, but in reality it was more along the lines of Lake Shasta. Wanting to maintain some element of confidence and coolness, and attempting to rebuild my reputation, I decided to jump over it. If I was out, I’d go out with a bang. I leapt. I landed. Smack dab in the middle of it. I was drenched in a watery, gooey, muddy mess. My humiliation level soared. Utterly embarrassed, I made the trek to the Nurse’s office where I sat with paper towels stuck to every exposed body part as I waited for my mom to bring a change of clothes.

These days I’ve been learning some new additions to the game as I’ve played with my 9-year-old and his friends. One of them is “ghosties” (when we’re short-handed players, the runner has to return to be kicker again, leaving a “ghostie” on base.) I’ve also been introduced to another one of their recess faves: Four Square. Over the summer, I’ve heard my son holler “Chickafee” on occasion and wondered what it meant. But I’ve remained silent and figured it was one of the finer points of the game.

Thursday we decided to play Four Square with our new ball. Rassy and his friend explained the rules to me as we started. We bounced the ball into each other’s squares, trying not to hit the lines. He bounced it into his friend’s square and immediately yelled “Chickafee.” Here was my opportunity. I tried to be subtle as I contained my cluelessness; I was on the verge of going from Four Square novice to insider.

“What’s ‘Chickafee’?” I asked.

Playing ceased.

My son’s friend held the ball at his hip and looked at me with all the seriousness of an MLB ump.

“It’s actually supposed to be ‘Chicken Feet’,” he explained knowledgeably. “It means when the ball hits your foot you’re out.”

“Oh.” I replied.

I played a few more minutes and then jumped in the car to go pick up some pizza as they continued on with Two Square, bouncing that red ball back and forth as I left.

Over the years the games, lingo and rules may have changed—we’ve gone from Charlie’s Angels to Chickafee—but one thing remains at the heart of neighborhood and playground fun: that familiar, classic, textured red rubber ball.

Summer, Summer, Summer

I lean against the corner of the covered playground area, watching. The sun beats down between my shoulder blades, warming me. I have my camera at the ready, but I know it’s not really pictures I want to take. I simply want to soak in this morning. I feel it. I’m in it.

More than remembering, I am reliving.

Faces glow. Smiles abound. There’s an energy, a buzz in the air. Boys and girls hold bouquets of flowers, potted plants and gift bags, decked out in flip-flops, sandals, shorts and sundresses. I linger, wanting to take it in and hold on to it as long as I can. It only comes once a year.

The last day of school.

Anticipation. Excitement. Freedom. Friends. Laidback routines. Fun. Summer stretches out into days, months even, feeling like there is no end in sight.

From Kindergarteners to Fifth Graders, over seven hundred kids line up on the blacktop, waiting for their teachers to come lead them to class. Kids chatter with a nervous, excited intensity. Just hours to go. The Principal, in her suit and sunglasses, signs yearbook after yearbook, as sought-after as a celebrity at a Meet ‘n’ Greet. She’s moving on to the Middle School, so her signature is one they want to capture and are certain to cherish.

Finally, the bell rings. Teachers make their way out. My son’s Kindergarten teacher passes by and we wish each other a happy summer. His First Grade teacher follows. “A bittersweet day,” she says to me, summing it up. In the distance, I see my son and his buddies follow their teacher. I watch as he disappears behind a portable, noting that it’s the last time I’ll see him as a Second Grader.

Four hours later, I greet the bus, cheering, as it arrives. Again, I have my camera at the ready, but I doubt I’m going to take any pictures. I high five kids as they step down to the sidewalk. My son emerges as a proud, smiling Third Grader. We walk back to our house and he shares the highlights of the day. Yes, the Principal cried. Yes, his teacher did, too. We get home and try to figure out what we can do since it’s the Last Day. We mill around a bit. I put some things back in the garage as we toss some ideas back and forth.

“I don’t want it to be summer,” he announces.

I look up.

Here is the bittersweet.

We talk about missing friends and keeping in touch. As the idea of summer stretches out before him, along with the realization that he won’t see his friends everyday, his face shows a tinge of sadness.

But it passes quickly and we are back to the important decision at hand.

We decide on the Rage Cage. He grabs his bat and batting glove and we jump in the car, off to enjoy the first —thankfully, sunny—afternoon of summer vacation.