You can’t leave home without it

My bestie and her kids were here for a visit a couple of weeks ago. One of her daughters truly speaks Little Man’s language. They live on the same autism planet. They get each other, which is awesome. It also means we spread all kinds of autism awareness when we’re all out together.

We were out at lunch one day. The two of them sat at one end of the table, lost in their own combined world. BFF and I maneuvered them through food and drink choices, ordering, keeping them calm at the table, and getting through the meal. At one point, BFF looked at me and said, “There’s no vacation from it.” Yep, there’s no vacation from autism.

These babies of ours take it with them every day, all day. When we go out, when we shop, when we vacation, when we sit around the pool, when we go anywhere, autism comes with us. We can’t leave home without it. We can’t take a day off. We can’t simply forget to put it in the suitcase like that bottle of sunscreen that was left behind. Some days, some hours, that sucks more than others. Some moments, it’s perfectly fine.

We had highs and lows over the course of the week. It comes with the territory. I think my favorite part was their simple excitement of seeing each other, talking about their shared interests, and when he pulled out his sketch pad and pencils after she brought hers to the kitchen table. I feel blessed to watch them together, their particular bond.

We took them to a baseball game their last night here. They both rocked it, their way, which was completely fine. iPads, headphones, and phones in hand, they were fairly oblivious to the game, but they were there with the rest of us. Baseball the autism way.

We can’t leave home without autism, but we can see something people who don’t live it can’t see…we can see the purity of their wins, their strengths, their particular abilities.

He doesn’t do anything

I pulled up  my Timehop the other day, and there were photos and video of Little Man on Opening Day of his rookie year of baseball. That was prior to him being diagnosed on the spectrum. He played soccer and baseball back then. All three kids were in multiple activities. He was challenging to say the least, but he did whatever we put him in, although often begrudgingly.

He gave up baseball first, saying it was boring and he was actually afraid of getting hit by the ball. He would have reached the level of kids pitching that next year, and the thought of it freaked him out. We pulled him out of soccer when it became evident he could actually get hurt as the skill of the kids he was playing continued to improve while his stagnated. He wasn’t exactly one of the bigger boys out there either, nor quite the fastest, which would have helped. We talked about other activities for a couple of years, but nothing seemed to interest him at all, and, quite honestly, I was hauling the other two all over town and beyond for their stuff. Having one kid not involved in anything was something of a relief.

So, he doesn’t do anything….no football, no baseball, no soccer, no music…nothing. He comes home from school, and goes to his computer. He isn’t alone – he has friends over all the time. And he does get outside frequently. But he has no extra-curricular activities. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but most of the time, I’m totally okay with it.

It isn’t worth putting him in something he doesn’t want to do. That wouldn’t be fair to his teammates or coaches, because he would push back. So yes, we did kind of take the easy way out on this part of his childhood. Will he regret it, or hold it against us someday? I highly doubt it – he’s perfectly content with his lack of extra-curriculars.

We have sent him to camp during the summer. This past summer, he went to coding camp and he loved it. We’ll be sending him back to that program again this summer. He’s lately indicated an interest in learning to play the guitar. We’re working on that.  Big Man will have his driver’s license soon, and that will free up time for me to manage lessons and such for Little Man.

Spouse has started to take him running on Saturday or  Sunday mornings. He doesn’t seem to mind the running and it’s his preferred choice, given the option, during PE at school. We will put him on the cross country team when he starts high school in a year and a half.

For now, he’s not involved in any extra activities, and that’s okay. Do I miss seeing him in his uniform, out on the field? Sometimes, yes. But I certainly don’t miss the drama of making him get out there.

Why Baseball?

I may  have mentioned in the past I’m a huge baseball fan.  Less than a week until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training!!! We’re *this* close to my favorite time of year.But why baseball, you ask? The easy answer is I just love being at the ball field on a warm summer day, listening to the sounds of the ball being caught and hit. The long answer goes much deeper than that.

My brother, K, is almost four years older. When I was little, I worshipped him. I was too much a priss to want to do the same sports he did, but  I loved watching him play. And he played baseball. More than that, he was pretty darn good. I was so proud of him.  Most of the younger siblings would play on the playground during the games, and pester their parents into multiple trips to the snack bar. Not me….I sat in my little chair, watching my big brother play.  I learned how to keep score when I was maybe seven years old. Some of my best childhood memories are from those Little League ball fields.

Add to this, I’m a Daddy’s girl, in addition to being close to my brother. Spending time with them meant watching sports. One of those sports was baseball. They were Oakland A’s fans, so I became an Oakland A’s fan. The fact they won three World Series in a row when I was little-little didn’t hurt. So baseball is also wrapped up in memories of spending time with Daddy and K.

When I was in college, a bunch of my friends were on the baseball team. We spent Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (when I wasn’t working) at the field watching them play. I learned so much more about the game those three years. I learned the mental side of the game, the strategies of plays and players, the dance that happens between pitcher and hitter. I learned the game, and I learned respect for the game.

A couple of years out of college, my brother and I got season tickets for our beloved Athletics team. Now baseball meant Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the park. Sun-drenched memories created with the brother who introduced me to baseball. We had our favorite players, few of whom ever lasted more than a few years with the  A’s before they were traded away. But it was baseball, and it was time together, and it was our favorite team.

Every year as Spring Training approaches, I start watching baseball movies. I have my favorites…Bull Durham, Major League, For Love of the Game, A League of Their Own, The Natural, Eight Men Out, Moneyball. They remind me baseball is close. They remind me all the things I’m anxiously awaiting. They remind me why and how much I love the game. When the season actually starts, our television will be tuned to games nearly every day, from the time the first pitch is thrown of whatever early game there is, until the last out of the last night game that day. The sounds of the game bring calm to my day.

Baseball is a game….it’s a game of throw the ball, catch the ball, hit the ball. But it’s so much more than that. It’s little boys taking the t-ball field for the very first time. It’s little sisters watching big brothers play on an all-star team. It’s daddies and daughters spending treasured time together. It’s siblings sharing a passion for a certain team. It’s competition. It’s one man vs another, one team vs another. It’s beer, brats, cotton candy, and peanuts. It’s fly balls and home runs. It’s winning, and losing. That’s why baseball.

 

Wrigley

One of my bucket-list items is to go to a game at every Major League ballpark. I haven’t made it too far in this endeavor – O.Co Coliseum (Oakland), AT&T in San Francisco, Chase Field in Phoenix, Petco here in San Diego, Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Chavez Ravine in LA, and Fenway have all been covered. I have some traveling to do, right?

A few weeks back, I made my seventh visit to Chicago. In all those visits, I’d never been to Wrigley, nor to US Cellular Field. When talk turned to a Cubs game, I was all in. And so, on my last full day in Chicago this time out, we jumped on the train and headed to Wrigley.

I’ve grown up going to baseball games. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a stadium. But there’s nothing like a ballpark in the middle of a town/city, nor is there anything like a ballpark that holds history such as Fenway or Wrigley. When we went to Fenway in 1999, I almost passed out with excitement as we walked up to the back side of the Green Monster. Fairly sure I had that same look when I had my first glimpse of Wrigley from the train, much less as we walked up to the famous Cubs marquee.

Cubs Marquee

Spouse describes Wrigley as “a dump”.  Yeah, there are much newer, much nicer ballparks around. But new doesn’t have the history of old. I can’t go to Petco and imagine Babe Ruth playing there. Wrigley is old. It has the old style to it. The bathrooms are small. There’s a different smell entirely. But let me just tell you, when we walked up the steps, out into the stands, and I saw the field for the first time, my  heart raced, and I took a deep breath, smelling the grass, the leather, the heat, the hot dogs, the beer.

In an old ballpark, the sounds of the game are intensified. Bat hitting ball, ball hitting glove, the crowd singing “Take me Out to the Ballgame”, the calls of “Ball!” and “Strike!”…..they just don’t sound the same as they do in a new park. There’s a measure of tradition that goes with the history in an old ballpark. My A’s have *only* been around since the 60’s. The Cubs have been around since the beginning of baseball. I looked around at EVERYONE wearing their Cubs gear. I stared at the field where countless legends have played. I saw the scoreboard I’d only ever seen on television before. I watched the fans in the seats on top of the buildings around the park. I ate a Chicago-style hotdog. I recalled watching the Cubs BEFORE they had lights at Wrigley.  I took it all in.

The Cubs didn’t win the game, but the loss wasn’t without excitement. There were two calls challenged. There was a lot of yelling. The entire stadium sang Take Me Out during the 7th Inning Stretch. I bought gifts for the kids and my Cubs-loving Spouse. The Cubs came up with too little, too late. But oh man, it went down as one of the best days of my life. This baseball fan lived a dream for a few hours in Chicago.

The famous scoreboardWelcome to Wrigley

Walk-Up Song

I love baseball – love watching it, going to games. One of my favorite parts of going to a baseball game is hearing what each home player’s walk-up song is. What’s a walk-up song? It’s the song each player from the home team has chosen to hear as he approaches home plate for his at-bat. It’s a song that pumps him up,  helps him get in the zone, and it’s personal to each player. I can tell who’s coming up to bat for my favorite team just by what walk-up song is playing.

My running playlist is full of my own personal walk-up songs….songs that help me run faster, stay focused, or just keep moving. There are the songs that help me through that last miserable mile of a long run, songs that help me bust it up a hill, songs that make me feel strong, songs that help me cool down. Some of them are angry and full of foul language. Some are inspiring, lifting me up when I think I can’t run one more step. Some of them are those songs that get your fist pumping, head bobbing, nothing-can-stop-me-now songs.

I use walk-up songs in day-to-day life as well. If I’m going into an event, class, or meeting by myself, I’ll play a song in the car before walking in to help boost me up, give me confidence. If I’m giving a speech, or talking to a group, telling  Big Man’s story, or going into an IEP meeting for Little Man, I’ll play a song I know will make me feel strong, confident, focused. The kids have songs they like to hear before games, competitions, presentations. We used to play “Eye of the Tiger” on our way to the soccer fields every Saturday way back when. They still laugh when they hear it now. Princess chose one of her walk-up songs for her contemporary solo last year.

Do you have a walk-up song? What is it?

Sliding towards the end

We are in the home stretch, the last week of school. It’s a cliche, completely, but this year flew by. And yet, so much has happened, it has seemed a long year as well. Don’t judge – my brain has no clue which end is up at the moment.

Four more days…four more wake-ups. Little Man has his Fifth Grade Musical Wednesday night. He decided long ago he did not want to participate, but a couple of weeks ago, his SAI was out so he had to go to rehearsal. He ended up helping with the props and decided he was totally good with that. So he will be behind the scenes Wednesday night, but will still be part of things. I’m super proud of him, and he’s happy to have a role within his comfort zone.

The 5th grade promotion ceremony is Thursday morning…and at the same time as the 7th grade awards. So we are missing out seeing the Princess get a special award. Sigh. I hate when I can’t be there for my kids, particularly when they are being honored.

Friday morning brings 8th Grade Graduation for Big Man. Right afterwards, we go back to the elementary school to pick up Little Man from his party, and say goodbye to our school home of the past nine years.

In short, I’m a hot, weepy mess.  My babies are growing up. Big changes are coming. And the thought of leaving our school for good on Friday is more than I can take. Two teachers already had me in tears last week. They have become family, part of our Herd. I’m so thankful for social media and the opportunity it provides to stay connected.

I have things to do, but after my run this morning, I decided to just stay home this afternoon, and enjoy some quiet time getting things done around here until pick-up. I’m excited for summer…..for sleeping in, not having to go through the morning routine and rush everyone out the door every day, for not dealing with homework battles and projects, for having time to relax, hang out with friends, go to the beach, take in some baseball games, maybe go to the zoo. But the next four days are just going to be emotionally exhausting, and pretty bittersweet.

Remember when you first fell in love?

No, I’m not talking about relationships.  I took some quiet time last night after the kids and Spouse went to bed. Yesterday was kind of a rough day and I needed some mindless television to go with my glass of Zin. I was channel-surfing when I came across the movie Field of Dreams. Good golly, how I love that movie.  I watched the last twenty minutes, tears rolling down my face. It took me back to when I first fell in love with baseball.

My brother K played Little League. He’s almost four years older than me. I can’t tell you how many Saturdays we spent at the ball fields. Early on, it was more about the playground and snack bar for me. But then I started watching the games. I practically worshipped the ground K walked on. And he was kind of a good ball player.  I learned the game, the strategies. I even learned how to keep score – a skill I’ve long since forgotten all the technicalities of.  We watched a lot of baseball at home too, my mom being something of a Giants fan, and the rest of us A’s fans.  We went to see the minor league team in our city a few times too. Baseball meant family, sunshine, hot dogs, peanuts, the crack of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting the glove, the smell of sunscreen, cotton candy, and popcorn.

It was when i was in college that baseball became an obsession. I had some friends on the team,and watching games was part of the social scene. I learned more about the mentality of the game and how it was played, all the unwritten rules, the superstitions.  It made me love baseball even more.  Baseball then meant ditching that last Friday afternoon class to go see my friends play. It meant double-header Saturdays. It meant friends, parties, and fun. It became part of the fabric of my college experience.

In the strike-shortened 1994 season, my brother and I shared season tickets to the A’s.  And for many years, our entire family would tailgate at the A’s game for my Daddy’s birthday.  In the years since, I’ve been to Spring Training numerous times, , paced the kitchen as the A’s pulled out wins coming down to the wire to win the American League West, left my son’s NICU bedside to go to the A’s vs NY Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 AL Division Series, counted days from the end of the season to Pitchers and Catchers reporting, and basically made Opening Day a holiday in our household.

So as I was watching the movie last night, and James Earl Jones, playing Terence Mann, said:

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

(credit: Field of Dreams movie, screenplay Phil Alden Robinson)

my tears flowed, because that’s what baseball is.  I remembered when I first fell in love with the game, and I fell in love with it all over again.