Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Family (Page 2 of 2)

After the milestones

In recent days, more than eight years after our first child was born and more than two years after our third, we’ve retired the stroller and the Pack ‘n Play. Tonight, it appears, we’re done with the crib. The final moments in the high chair are nigh, leaving us only with diapers as the last vestige of little children of a certain age.

Clinging to the memories of their youngest days, clinging to our babies in a capricious world.

Seven pages of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Warning: Non-baseball content ahead

Frustrated with my kids for chronic insubordination, I turned to desperate measures. I started reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” to them.

That’s no statement against the book – anything but. Harper Lee’s novel is iconic to me. I mean, it’s the Atticus Finch of novels, the Gregory Peck of publications.  What more do you need to say about it? It is righteous in the best possible way, and I was resorting to it in the hopes that just by wielding it, its energy would turn things around.

But the book is arguably too mature for my 8-year-old daughter and definitely so for my 6-year-old son. (My 2-year-old boy listened with cheerful indifference for a few minutes.) Even the title was off-putting, my daughter going out of her way to make it clear that she didn’t want to read about any dead birds. I would have turned straight to the movie, but my kids have a much greater willingness to listen to words they don’t entirely understand than a willingness to watch anything in black-and-white, a bias that I have been unable to conquer with anything except Lucy Ricardo selling Vitameatavegamin.

The first paragraph of “Mockingbird” is promising: In those opening lines alone, we get football and a broken, misshapen arm.  But immediately, the book then takes a dangerous turn into ancestral backgrounds that are more in keeping with “War and Peace.” My kids’ had limited sympathy for Scout having no ancestors who fought in the Battle of Hastings. As soon as the second page, I found myself having to skip ahead, past the history of Simon Finch’s persecution at the hands of the Methodists, onto the relative excitement of Atticus passing the bar.

The vocabulary challenges also escalated: If I wasn’t having to explain what an apothecary was, I suddenly was finding myself having exposed my kids to “jackass” and “son-of-a-bitch” on page 3, all in the context of an early Atticus case defending two, well, murderers.  Live by the sword, die by the sword. That’s your grade-school bedtime reading for the night.

On the fourth page, before you even find out that your narrator Scout is a girl, you find out about Scout’s mother dying young. I was in a death spiral of my own.

Hope came in the next few pages, with the funny introduction of Dill, whose braggadocio about his reading ability got a laugh from my son. Shortly, on the seventh page, the specter of Boo Radley received its full, curdling introduction: Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom.

The clock having passed 9 p.m., half an hour past the kids’ bedtime, I stopped reading there at the end of that page. I had, to say the least, equipped them with supreme nightmare material, but at least I had worn them down.

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if I keep reading to them (seven pages down, 270 to go). Don’t know all three of us have the energy to keep going.  Maybe I quit while I’m behind. Maybe I’ve done just enough to get them to give the movie a try.

And yes, I’m aware that the material only grows more fraught with peril. I should stop, even if they start listening.

I want to keep going, though. I feel like there’s a moment here. And even though part of me knows that I’m rushing into it, part of me doesn’t want to wait.

Pride, teamwork and the Tooth Fairy

“Daddy, I have a surprise for you.”

My 8-year-old daughter has been tooth-loss challenged her whole life.  She was the last kid in her class to lose a tooth, watching with agony as the Tooth Fairy visited every one of her friends’ bedrooms but never her own. Finally, she had a breakthrough this year, but still, it’s been slow going.  Her remaining front tooth had been hanging on like a monkey on a vine, hanging on with the tenacity of Alex Cora at the plate against Matt Clement.

Finally, as I greeted her after work Monday night, just before dinner, she opened her mouth and showed the double-sized gap. Victory!

Not to be outdone in his desire to reap a ruthless, toothless reward is my 6-year-old son. Tooth loss comes more naturally to him, and conveniently, he had a wiggler front and center on his bottom row. Merging greed with courage, he asked his mom if she might be able to pull it out.  It was close enough to make it possible … annnnnd … victory!

Ladies and gentlemen, we had a doubleheader.

My wife makes the Tooth Fairy arrangements in our household. But as she went into my daughter’s bedroom late at night, the boy, who chooses to sleep on her floor in a sleeping bag most nights, sat straight up. My wife had to withdraw discreetly. She then declared herself too tired to stay up any later, and so, for the first time ever, Tooth Fairy logistics fell to me.

This was something like replacing Clayton Kershaw with Ramon Ortiz.

I mean, sure, if I could just groove a fastball past these kids, there’d be no problem. But their heads were just hammered to their pillows. It was going to take some sort of clever curve to strike this exchange of cash for choppers. Plus, their floor creaks like Independence Day fireworks.  Conditions were against me.

My first time in, there was just no chance.  My son stirred again, sitting up.  I asked if he was okay, as if I just happened to be hanging out in the neighborhood, kissed him and left the room.

Well past midnight, I gave it another go.  This time, my son stayed asleep. But I couldn’t reach either tooth, not without using a forklift to boost their noggins from their pillows. Hence, I decided to have hands on forklift training as it can help me out in gaining productivity.But I wonder How does the Tooth Fairy do this?

A little after 4 a.m., I woke myself up for a third attempt.  Time was running short.  I went in, and finally had some luck. They had shifted positions. I could reach my daughter’s tooth, safe in its little Tooth Fairy pouch. I extracted it and replaced it with her reward ($3, upped from $2 thanks to the ever-increasing peer pressure of classmates who have been getting $5 – no lie!).

However, though my son was now near the edge of his pillow, I could not find that tooth.  He had to be lying right on top of it or something.  I was beside myself.  I tried and tried to get my hand to it, but I just couldn’t.  Worried that the jig would soon be up, I stuffed the money underneath and just hoped that somehow, there would be a chance to get the tooth before he woke up.

When I came back into our bedroom, my wife had awakened, wondering what I was doing.  I cursed the Tooth Fairy nightmare I was enduring. She didn’t hesitate. Coming out of the bullpen like Orel Hershiser in the ’88 NLCS, she went in for the save.

And here’s the evanascent point of this post.

Teamwork dictated that I would root for her to succeed. Pride dictated that I wanted her to have as much trouble as I did.  I was torn.  Her success would shine a light on my failing. Her failure would threaten to bring down the entire carefully constructed Tooth Fairy enterprise.

“Be mature,” I finally said to myself. “You want her to get that tooth.”

But as the moments passed, leading to her empty-handed return, I can’t say that I didn’t still feel a dash of peace.

Later, I would realize that the end of the story should have been predictable all along. My son woke up, saw the money and didn’t even notice that his tooth hadn’t been taken. As it turned out, it had somehow escaped his pillow entirely and had taken residence underneath where his midsection had been. The jig wasn’t up — it was rigged against me!

So, did I pass the Teamwork Test, or did I fail? I’m not sure. I just know that I don’t belong in this league. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready to go back to the sidelines. The Tooth Fairy will have her job back.

Cultivating a new generation of Dodger fans isn’t easy …

… when the Dodgers lose the last 10 games I have taken my children to. Seven Webkinz games last year, and now three games this year with Monday’s Fireworks Night flail. And that doesn’t count the Freeway Series loss to the Angels.

Anyway, we’re all staying home tonight, so things should be looking up for the home team …

Update: Via Sports by Brooks, “The Greatest American Hero” at Dodger Stadium. And it only gets better …

William Katt: “I’m gonna be on ‘The Mike Douglas Show?'”
Markie Post: “Can you take a bit of advice from a girl who lived in Mandeville Canyon and used to grow organic vegetables?”

Play ball …

My wife gave me the most extraordinary anniversary present. It was a 96-page, hardcover photo album (with accompanying text) celebrating our courtship and first 10 years of marriage and nearly eight years as parents. For a guy who finds self-pity less than a hop, skip and jump away, it was like being handed my very own “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The words she wrote were obviously sentimental and loving, but they didn’t hide the struggles we’ve had or the disappointments we have encountered. Sometimes we make bad choices; sometimes we aren’t good enough. Sometimes we do everything right, but it just isn’t meant to be. Marriage isn’t one World Series championship after another, and within it there are frustrations large and small.

But in the most mundane moments can come the most diabolically precious memories.

When I paged through that photo album and saw so many dagger-to-my-heart images piled on top of each other, I was staggered. And it was amazing how many of them occurred on the most uneventful days, days that had no meaning other than bringing smiles to our faces then, and now, and in the future. It’s a book of tear-dropped happiness, not a book of triumphs.

When we’re up against it, when the dreams and peace of mind are deferred, we have to remind ourselves (some days I’m better than this than others) that the little things add up. It isn’t done fairly, and the calculus isn’t comprehensible. But we have to remember. I have to remember. Otherwise, when the time comes, I’ll go straight into missing them without having appreciated them.

Riding in the tunnel …


Tony Jackson of has the lowdown on Ned Colletti’s critical comments of the Dodgers’ play. (Dodgers Blog has Kemp’s response.) I’ll agree with Colletti that Matt Kemp’s basestealing and defense have been a disappointment that we’d all like to see corrected, but if you’re going to start throwing out pointed comments about the effect of his new contract, you might at least balance it with the fact his hitting has been MVP-caliber. The Dodgers are not losing because of Matt Kemp.

Jackson adds, as many of you might already have suspected, that Charlie Haeger’s roster spot is in jeopardy after another unsatisfactory outing. Not sure what move the Dodgers would make, but Saturday might bring a decision.

* * *

On April 29, 2000, I stood at one end of a room and a woman walked toward me from the other end of the room. And then we made vows, and we walked out of that room together, married.  I’m not sure what’s more amazing – that it ever happened, or all that has come in the nine years and 364 days since. It feels unreal. It’s been very real – family life can be bliss and it can be hard. But thinking about it feels unreal. It’s a ride I don’t want to get off.

So I’m off to celebrate – you’ll next see me here Friday or Saturday.  There will game chats, so stick around and think good thoughts about the Dodgers, when you can.

Happy 100th birthday, Grandma Sue!

Aaron and Sue Weisman

I’m in such awe that I don’t feel I can convey it sufficiently, so I’m left with starting this post with the basics.

Sue Weisman, my grandmother, born on April 7, 1910, is 100 years old today.

The last thing you expect is for someone to live to be 100, but if anyone were going to do it, it was Grandma Sue, a straight-shooting, take-life-as-it-comes woman. Her early childhood years – the sixth of eight children of Minsk immigrants – came during World War I: “I used to be scared that those horrible helmets would be walking down the street. During the night I used to think about that. … The spiked helmets scared the hell out of me.” Grandma heard about the end of the war from a phone call to the family business: Hers was the first family she knew to have a telephone. “There was a false Armistice, and we thought we’d get a day off from school. So, instead of us going to school — and of course, we were penalized, and we had to stay after school, so I never forgot that. And then about two weeks later, there was a real Armistice.

Her parents owned a restaurant. “They were originally in the saloon business until … Prohibition came. My father was a Beau Brummel, a gay blade, who wore something on his mustache when he went to bed and kept his hat in a leather case and loved all the nice things. My mother worked like a dog.”

My favorite story about her is from her New York/Lower East Side childhood, when in between ice skating and baseball and football with her friends of both genders, this little Jewish girl was dressed as if she were being driven to church, all so that he could be a decoy for liquor to be smuggled undetected during Prohibition. Married and moving to Chicago at age 20, her next decade brought her a husband, Aaron, who found work during the Depression working as an accountant for Ralph Capone, Al’s brother – years living in terror underscored by Aaron’s uncle Sol being “taken for a ride” and never returning. “Honey, the stuff I had to take in that crappy apartment, oh God. Every hoodlum in the world was up there.”  The first year they were married, Aaron met her outside their apartment one night and told her he was nearly tossed out the 10th floor window.

And then there was her live-in mother-in-law, Aaron’s mother Ida, who once held a butcher’s knife to her and was so remorselessly unpleasant that when she passed away in 1961, my father says he went down to the hospital “to make sure she was dead.”

Sue has three children – Jerry, my father Wally (75 next month) and my aunt Elinor – eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. It’s both fact and appropriate metaphor that Sue did all the driving in the family. Aaron, who never got behind a steering wheel in my lifetime, retired relatively young from a liquor distribution business and led a sedentary life, but Sue was constantly out and about. Papa Aaron taught me poker; Grandma Sue played catch with me in my backyard well into her 60s.  A fanatic about books, art and culture, Grandma Sue was an original volunteer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when it opened in the 1960s and, long after my grandfather died in 1994 at age 86, continued there past age 95. No doubt, soon after we celebrate her birthday tonight and this weekend, she’ll be escorted to a play or the opera. Physically, she isn’t what once was, but her mental acuity has barely dimmed at all.

My sister Robyn – whose video interview with my grandmother from years back provided the quotes above – offers the following:

In 1928, Grandma Sue took the New York State Regents Exam in English. She scored 90 on the exam, with a perfect 50 on the essay portion. Not only was it the highest score in the five boroughs of New York City, it was so unheard of that 20 years later, Grandma’s younger sister Mickey, by then an English teacher herself, mentioned this to an older colleague, and he said, “Your sister was the one who scored that 50?” with the sort of awe that’s typically reserved for Hank Aaron’s 715th home run or Sandy Koufax’s perfect game.

“I don’t know what the hell I did! I wrote something very naturally, and I never had a grammatical error,” Grandma told me a few years ago. When I asked her what the topic was, she said she wrote about a young man who came from lowly surroundings and built himself into a well-dressed and well-educated boy who wore a suit and a real hat when other boys his age were still wearing caps or going bareheaded.

“So it was a creative essay?” I said.

“No, I couldn’t write about Tom, Dick and Harry. I couldn’t write a story,” she said. I didn’t argue with her because her hearing is so bad and shouting and enunciating is something I try to avoid unless it’s really necessary. If a (then) 96-year-old woman wants to claim she isn’t a storyteller, I guess I can nod with the condescension the middle-aged too often show the elderly and think, “Right, this coming from the woman who changed her name from Sarah to Sue around the time ‘The Great Gatsby’ had its first printing because it sounded more modern.”

But just know that Jon can’t help it that he writes about baseball with such depth, humor and lyricism. It’s in his genes. He descends from a woman who tells a story with such craft that it feels tossed off, which it may well be. It’s an intuitive sense that she has, like her perfect grammar.

I’d love to recount some of her recollections from the days when our grandfather worked for the Capone mob, among so many other stories. Instead I’ll tell one she told offhandedly to Jon, me and a few other relatives the day of Jon’s youngest son’s bris because it’s an example of her offhand approach to storytelling.

We were waiting in Jon’s living room while Jon’s wife and the baby were in a guest bedroom with the mohel, and everyone was nervous. Then Grandma piped up. “After Jerry was born, my father came to Chicago for the bris, and when he saw how the mohel was holding the knife, he grabbed it out of his hand — because from running the restaurant, he knew how to use one — and he said, ‘I didn’t come all the way from Manhattan to see you castrate my first-born grandchild!’ And he did it himself. It was a real worry back then, you know.”

She was 98 when she told that story. She’s 100 today. Happy birthday, Grandma. We wouldn’t be here without you (obviously), and you shaped us into who we are. And for my part, I’m grateful to you for it.

Yes, happy birthday Grandma. I have never been the greatest grandson, but I am so proud of you and to know you, and do love you.

Case study of a 5-year-old athlete

When I last wrote about my oldest son, he was a 4-year-old with barely enough interest to keep him upright on a T-ball team that I was coaching.

He was more interested in playing with the dirt in the infield than the ball running along it past him. He was sold on the idea that he’d get to have fun with his friends, but because you can’t have nine shortstops, he was constantly told to move away from his friends. He found fun where he could, but he never really seemed to grasp the overall purpose of his being out there.

For this, I faulted him not at all, but rather questioned the decision my wife and I made to have him be on the team at that age. There was reason enough to fear that the experience might kill any interest he had in sports. And I wasn’t at all sure that my being his coach was a positive thing. I didn’t doubt that on some level he loved having me there, but I also wondered if my presence was stunting his development.

By the end of the season, I sort of came around to the idea that the good outweighed the bad. He did have some fun, though it had nothing to do with fundamentals. He improved slightly, although even as late as the final game, we still weren’t sure if he should bat righty or lefty. His attention still wandered off, but not quite as long. On some level, I think he felt some sense of pride from being on the team. So even if this wasn’t his thing, the experience was probably a good one. I still wouldn’t say it was necessary for someone his age, but I don’t think it was harmful.

* * *

Summer came, along with his fifth birthday. He had another round of day camp and swimming lessons, and man, he loves being in the pool. All the ambivalence you saw in T-ball was a faint memory when you saw how eagerly and joyously he went into the water. He would go every day if he could.

Fall came. My wife took me by surprise one day by suggesting we take the training wheels off his bike. Amid my skepticism, I started limbering up. Teaching my daughter (now 7) to ride on two wheels had been fairly backbreaking, as I was constantly hunched over, running alongside her with a hand on the handlebars until she was ready for me to let go … then bending over to pick her up after she teetered over. After a few weeks, I got a tip from another dad at the park to lower her seat way down. This made an immediate difference. Still, I had no illusion two-wheeling would be easy for child No. 2.

But within just a few seconds of his starting to pedal, my son called out, “Let go, Daddy! Let go!” And he was off. The kid who needs a court order before he’ll play catch with you was an utter natural on that racing-striped bike. After a quick reminder that he get a foot down when he wanted to stop, the instruction was all over. It was amazing.

Winter came. Thanks to the generosity of my parents, we made it to the snow, where daughter got her third week of ski lessons and eldest son got his second. Learning to ski involves a lot of moving parts. Getting the rhythm and mechanics of it can be a painstaking quest, and that’s when the weather’s nice. But my kids didn’t mind. They get it. They like it. They look forward to it. And they can now making their way down green runs with considerable ease and also have done several intermediate slopes.

And my son is fast. He’s got that little-kid, no-fear gene activated on the slopes. It’s a little scary, but it’s also pretty dang cool.

* * *

Immediately after coming home, we began my son’s first basketball season, which I greeted with much the same misgivings I had for T-ball, minus two: I wasn’t coaching, and I thought the pace of the game would engage my son’s interest more. And I have to say, he is always smiling. But many of those smiles have absolutely nothing to do with the game going on around him … or 30 feet away from him, given his intermittent reactions to what’s happening.

The game itself has no purpose for him. He knows the rules – get the ball and try to score – but he just doesn’t see a point in it. Whenever possible, he and one of his best buddies goof around. And then … snacks.

One time I told him (calmly, I promise) that it was great he was having fun but that he did have a responsibility to make his best effort out on the court. Otherwise, I’ve mostly let all this go. If a 5-year-old boy doesn’t see a purpose in the back and forth of basketball, well, is he wrong?

Meanwhile, his sister just had her first rock-climbing class (indoors, but otherwise the real deal) – for which the minimum age is 6. And I already know, exactly six months from today, my oldest son will be ready for his.

* * *

T-ball season is coming. Signups are this month, practices starting next month. I know that my son will survive, and heck, maybe he’ll even thrive.  It’ll be interesting to see how he does as a proven T-ball veteran as opposed to a mere T-ball prospect.

But here I have a boy who’s interested in at least four sports – swimming, biking, skiing and rock climbing – that he can do for the rest of his life. Who takes piano lessons and loves to read. Who concocts wild adventures for his stuffed animals. Who likes going to school and, in a 180-degree switch from his father, actually likes going to religious school. And so I do ask myself, “Why T-ball?”

I’m not worried that he’s overscheduled, not yet, because all this stuff is relatively spread out throughout the week, throughout the year. I’m still of a mind that playing T-ball will do him good, not harm – though I have very modest expectations about that good. I’m of a mind that even though baseball and basketball and soccer (the first one he tried) didn’t do it for him, team sports might still click for him at some point. Or, they won’t.

Right now, the value for him in playing baseball is twofold: the team camaraderie, and the possibility that the experience now will help him down the road, should he ever fall in like or love with the sport. There’s the possibility he’d someday regret him not playing T-ball. Whether those are reasons enough to have him out there, I’m not entirely sure. It might be just as possible that baseball will click for him when he’s not playing it.

I love baseball, but I don’t need my son to love it. He might even be better off not loving it.  A boy who loves swimming, biking and climbing is, as far as I’m concerned, just fine.

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