Monday, August 26, 2013

Getting a kick out of youth soccer

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 29, 2013] © 2013 

I think most parents would agree that there is no greater theater than youth sports.  In T-ball, for example, everyone can hit off the tee but no one can field so home runs are the norm even with a one-base-per-overthrow rule.  Every base is an overthrow.  In fact, my older son’s T-ball coach used to tell the kids to hit the ball and keep running until someone told them to stop. It was a remarkably winning strategy.  In my personal view, why would one want to sit through nine yawner innings of adult baseball with a final score of 1-0 when you could see an action-packed cliffhanger ending in 30 to 29?  And I humbly submit:  where but on the T-ball field at the Y will you ever see an unassisted triple play? 

But T-ball games are over for the season and now every available open space seems to be populated by youth soccer teams revving up for the fall season.  Not long ago while I was sorting through old files, I came across a copy of a letter I had written to a friend when my younger son, Henri, then age four, first started soccer. 

Dear Linda,

Although I was initially hesitant to have him start team sports so early, Henri has now played the first four out of a ten game season in a nursery school soccer league. At first I wondered:  who are these deranged people who put four-year-olds in regulation uniforms and have them run up and down a soccer field during nap time?  Somehow a basic requirement (or three) of team soccer ought to be that you can (a) talk (b) do a jumping jack, and (3) know which is your goal.  The socks also shouldn’t be taller than you are.  Most points were initially scored by each team kicking the ball into their own goal, while the parents ran up and down the sidelines gesturing wildly and screaming, “The OTHER WAY!  Go the OTHER WAY!”  Just as the poor kids start to get a sense of which way they were going, they change goals at half time.  But the kids seemed just as happy to score on their own goal as the other team’s; in fact, just after Henri’s team had lost 10-0, one of his teammates came running off the field jubilantly declaring, “We won!  We won!”

Henri came back after the first game (which I hadn’t been able to attend) announcing that his job was “‘tecting the goal.”  During one game when we had a substitute coach, we had to call a time out while I loped out into the field and explained to my sobbing, distraught child that the substitute coach’s instructions to defend the goal were the same as ‘tecting the goal.  (The poor kid just had no idea what that meant.)  In another game, the other team’s goalie walked off the field mid-play announcing with barely contained ennui that he didn’t feel like playing any more.  This is not an uncommon occurrence. 

They run up and kick the ball, missing it, and fall down.  Some of them are so short they just knee it.   None of them have quite grasped that, with the exception of the goalie, this is a “feet only” game; the coach has been trying to convey to them that you cannot just pick up the ball and run.  Henri came home from his third game announcing happily that his team “got free goalies” (three goals).  Actually, they may just have gotten three goalies as that is definitely the most hazardous position in the game.  Just as the goalie reaches down to get the ball, a kid runs up and accidentally kicks the goalie in the head.  It’s very hard being the goalie’s mother.  Time outs are frequently called for players needing to have their shoes tied or their elbows kissed.   Definitely unclear on zone defense, both teams end up bunched in a single clump lurching down the field looking like a scrum of disoriented midgets, and often ending up in the equivalent of a ten car pile-up when one kid trips over another one.  In their heart of hearts, I think what the kids like best is the post-game donut stop at Winchell’s.

What I couldn’t have known then was that Henri would continue ‘tecting the goal all the way through high school and college and now in adult leagues.  I’ve watched hundreds of soccer games over the years but I have to confess:  I’ve never enjoyed a season more than the first one. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Neighbors you wish would die

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 22, 2013]  © 2013 

Every neighborhood seems to have its requisite nutcase.  Over the years, I’ve done informal research on this subject by querying friends if they have at least one problem neighbor.  I’ve never had anyone say no.  In fact, I usually get a 20 minute diatribe on the wingnut who is terrorizing their particular block. 

One of our highest priorities has always been getting along with the people who live around us.  Fortunately, we’re had nice neighbors over the years with the exception of two that we were really happy to see go.  One died (but not soon enough) and the other moved (but not soon enough either).  Two bad neighbors over several decades is actually pretty good.  But even one difficult neighbor can wreak a lot of havoc.  Sometimes it was hard to stick to our inviolable rule:  No matter what, do not escalate.  But we’ve entertained some very ugly fantasies about their cat.
The houses in my area are in close proximity so it doesn’t take much noise for the entire block to hear it.  Still, my husband and I consider most noise to be in the category of the music of life.  Dogs, kids, parties, the occasional loud band.  We often comment that not hearing these sounds would be the hardest part of ever moving to a retirement home in our old age. 

Of course, even the music of life can occasionally get seriously out of tune. Chain saws on weekends.  Or drums, ever.   We also remind ourselves that for years, WE were the noisiest family on the block.  We had one of the few pools in the neighborhood then and multiple trees with tree forts, a veritable attractive nuisance.  Everybody came to play.
But even so, our elderly spinster retired school teacher next door neighbor never complained once in her 25 years there.  We could never tell whether this was because she was just an incredibly sweet lady (she was) or because she was deaf.  Actually, she WAS fairly deaf but we never wanted to explore whether our kids had contributed to it. 

The first of our two terrible neighbors was one we encountered a year after we moved in.  All of a sudden we were getting annoyingly regular notices from the La Jolla Town Council that a neighbor had complained we were “not maintaining our property.”  We were puzzled as we took great pride in our place.  Turns out that an elderly lady down the block felt our trees were blocking the breeze which she maintained her doctor had prescribed for her Raynaud’s Syndrome.  (My then-husband, a physician, said WTF?)  A minor detail was that we had no common property with this woman. But she felt that all trees from a five house radius were blocking her breeze and if we wished to be good neighbors, my husband and I would cut down all the beautiful, mature, biggest-on-the-block trees on our property.  She then added, “I would think people of your persuasion would understand persecution.”   
We were trying to figure out which of our multitude of persuasions she could be referring to but it turned out she used the same line on all the other neighbors and their multifarious persuasions as well.  In her mind, all persuasions were out to block her breeze and therefore by definition persecutorial.  Which I realize is not even a word.  Anyway, we ultimately all formed a coalition against the nasty old bat, ironically bringing the neighbors together in heretofore unparalleled harmony.  Ten years later when she died (see “not soon enough”, above) there was a brief moment of silence, followed by a rousing chorus of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” 

As for the second all-time terrible neighbor, she moved in while Olof and I were doing a two year work assignment in Europe so we were mostly spared.  But by the time we returned, the other neighbors were already planning to vote her off the island.  Fortunately, sensing that people were sticking extra-sharp pins up the back sides of little effigies of her, she departed and is now allegedly making a new group of neighbors’ lives miserable. 
I think it is only fair to point out that it is sometimes unclear who the resident lunatic on the block really is.  Most of the jury duty cases I’ve been on involved neighbor disputes that could best be summarized as Lots of Adults Behaving Badly. 

After several decades in our current house, we looked around recently and realize we’ve officially won the neighbor lottery.  For pretty much the last two years, we have been surrounded not only by good neighbors, but stupendously wonderful neighbors, people you can count on day or night who are the epitome of kindness and consideration and who, on top of that, are great friends.  If we wrote the “perfect neighbor” job description, we couldn’t have done any better.
But just so they’re clear:  no one had ever even THINK of moving.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Of Pi And Agapanthus

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 15, 2013]  © 2013 

When my younger son visited over the Fourth of July, one of his first comments was, “I never realized you had so much agapanthus.” 

Of course, I knew immediately it wasn’t my real son and that I would have to petition the embassy on the planet Klingon for his release.  Because this botany-identifying facsimile was not the one I raised who knew exactly two types of flowers:  orchids for prom corsages and roses for Valentine’s Day. 
Just so you understand, my real son loves math, economics, and sports.  He regarded high school Art History as a forced march through Circles 1-9 of Hell.  I do not exaggerate when I say he could easily have been elected “Kid most likely never to utter the word ‘agapanthus’.”  Rather, his idea of a good time as a sophomore was to enter a school contest as to who could memorize pi to the greatest number of places.  He won at 301 (that last digit as insurance in case a competitor memorized 300).

But plants?  Um, not so much.  Even those prom corsages were largely orchestrated by Mom who attempted to pry information from him as to, say, what color the girl’s dress might be, or whether she preferred a wrist corsage.  These queries generally elicited a look of a deer caught in the headlights of a Mack truck. 
300 digits of pi, on the other hand, were easily remembered by breaking up the digits into sequences of five numbers then stringing the sequences together.  The inter-relationships of flowers and dresses, however, was a murky slough of aesthetic despond into which he had no desire to wade. 

As the Fourth of July weekend progressed, it appeared that the forces on Klingon had indeed replaced the fake Klingon son with my real one until a barbecue one night when he surveyed our flower garden and observed “the downside of agapanthus is that they have such a short blooming season.”  I had the Klingon embassy back on speed dial within seconds. 
As it turns out, the reason my pi-loving progeny is suddenly so interested in things botanical is that he and his wife now own a home.  Well, a bank owns the home but they have a proprietary interest.   I would have thought he would have left landscaping decisions to his wife but she, although possessing lovely taste all on her own, wishes his input.  And he, wisely, wishes to make her happy.

My husband, Olof, has always maintained that when husbands (or even husbands-to-be) are queried about their opinion on anything aesthetic, the correct (and only) answer is, “Wouldn’t blue be better?”  He swears it works on all interior design selections, landscaping options, and especially on wedding planning decisions which is where he himself honed this strategy.  It fulfills the illusion of participation, he maintains, without entering into the Dantean world of actual aesthetic opinion.
But my younger son was now perusing our yard – the very same yard he grew up in and in which I would swear that he could not previously have identified a single piece of flora – and was avidly interested in what our plants were called, how often we had to water them, did they attract white fly?  Although he’d never paid attention to it before, Mom’s long-term landscaping strategy of “Plants You Can’t Kill”  had not been lost on him. 

As for pi, he will apologetically state that 15 years later, he can only still remember the first 50 digits which he happily rattled off in some four seconds flat.  That’s how I knew he was my real son and I could stop calling the embassy on Klingon.  Somewhere in that brain where 251 more digits of pi used to reside is a veritable Google Images of agapanthi and shade trees, border plants and drought-resistant shrubs.  Sometimes as a parent, you just have to live long enough. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

They'll Get Their Revenge

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 8, 2013] © 2013 

People often ask me if my husband and children mind that I write about them. Well, they might if they ever read my column. 

After twenty-one years in clerical bondage, Mom finally gets a chance to shine in her twilight years.  But can they be bothered?  Of course, I make my engineer husband, Olof, read the ones I’ve written about him before they’re submitted but even then, I’d bet my next paycheck he couldn’t even tell me the topic when he’s done.  He has perfected a look of intense concentration as he reads but I’m pretty certain he’s really pondering subjects of more pressing concern to him like Fermat’s Last Theorem or the application of binomial distribution to logistics processes. 
I always say, “So, no objections?”

“No,” he’ll say, “not at all.  It was fine.”
Me (trick question):  “So what was your favorite part?” 

Olof (knows it’s a trick question):  “All of it!”
Which still doesn’t keep him from coming back a week later when the column is out and saying, “My co-workers said you married me for my skills in pulling a toilet and extracting toy rocket parts.”

And I’ll say, “No, dear.  What I said is that this is not a quality one should overlook in a man, particularly a second husband.  And you approved that column.”
The kids are easier.  They don’t live in town.  And yes, they could easily read my column on the Light’s website.  If they were so inclined.  Which they are generally not.  I realize that they both work long hours and have tiny children.  My older son, Rory, says that no offense, but they’ve heard a lot of these stories before.  So I only send them ones that I think would be (a) of genuine interest to them, and more specifically (b) are not about them. 

As a precursor to my current column, I wrote a four to six page blog every week when we lived in Europe in 2005 and 2006 on a work assignment.  Olof, amazingly, never read a word of it.  “Um, why?” he said, genuinely puzzled.  “I was there.  Living it.”
In the kids’ defense, this was four to six pages a WEEK.  My older son, Rory’s, take was that this might be waaayy more information than they wanted to know about the folks’ activities.  He said he wanted to retain the mystique of us as the staid parents he knew and not some alien facsimiles who were suddenly auditioning for IKEA commercials.  (The ad did specifically say, “Blond American couple in their fifties.”  We even got call backs!)

But my younger son, Henri’s, response was the worst. Here Mom was having the adventure of her middle-aged life, an unexpected two year sojourn in Europe (well, it was supposed to be eight months but the Europeans aren’t exactly balls of fire when it comes to deadlines).  Temporarily paroled from a career fighting the good fight against felony semicolon abuse among her scientist bosses, it was the first new thing Mom had done in 25 years.   Legions of total strangers were subscribing to the witty saga of the madcap adventures of hers and Olof’s “senior(s) year abroad.”  Henri’s usual comment to the blog?  “Mom – Really busy at work.  From now on, would you please summarize in three lines or less?”
So what he generally got was:
(1)  We are living in Europe.
(2)   It is amazingly fun here.
(3)   They speak a foreign language that we don’t know and which results in some seriously challenging but often hilarious encounters.

I remember reading a 1950’s book about writing which cautioned, “Never write about family.”  Geesh, where’s the fun in that? They’re the best topics.  Of course, turnabout is fair play.  Fortunately for me, neither of my kids seems to have a literary bent but I have been promised that at my funeral, the stories will come fast and furious, particularly some seriously unflattering (actually downright vicious) ones involving chocolate.  It will get ugly.  Which, of course, is why I’ve tried hard to get my own versions of the chocolate stories in print while I’m still above the grass.  (There were extenuating circumstances!  I’m an addict, I admit it!) I’m fairly certain that every time one of my family members accidentally reads a column about himself, he quietly cackles.  He knows his time will come.