Archives for August 2011

Writing on the Wall

Kyle getting his game on!

I sat transfixed; eyes focused on the head coach, listening to him describe the prestigious football program of his private high school and all that it offered to my son. The moment seemed surreal.

I glanced around at the plush meeting room of the athletic department and tried not to pinch myself.  It was a gorgeous facility, well-appointed and filled with the trophies and titles of students past- a tribute to the blood, sweat and tears of dedicated coaches and athletes.

In the middle of the room, directly in front of the coach, perched my boy and his best friend; looking impossibly mature for their thirteen years. The boys leaned in, hungry to hear every word of the coach’s vision, so eager for the opportunity to pursue football glory. A passel of parents surrounded them, including my husband, ex-husband and Kyle’s step-mom. 

The baby and I sat on the floor near the edge of the room. After an extensive tour of the academic facilities, we were now into our third hour, and the baby’s patience was wearing thin.  Naptime had long come and gone and baby Kolby was near the end of her tiny toddler rope. I tried to distract her with a pen and a brochure I picked up along the way, but she whimpered and wiggled by my side scribbling on the paper while I tried to focus on the coach’s words.

I thought it would be so easy picking the right school for my son to attend. Let’s see…what district are we in?  I guess he’ll go there.  But I didn’t anticipate birthing a crushing tackler.  It seems to have changed the whole ballgame.

Coaches from random schools come up to me and ask to shake my son’s hand.  Seriously?

It reminds me of a delicate dance of courtship. Schools, much like a suitor, present their facility in pomp and circumstance, displaying their grand academia and illustrious sports programs. My son and his buddy, the belles of the ball (or stud athletes in this case) are fiercely protected by their mammas and daddies, who want to make sure their beloved boy has the best chance of success on and off the field.

And while there are no football scholarships for high school, there are opportunities with great programs that will give our son a better shot at garnering one in the future.

But all this wooing and playing hard to get, this unspoken ritual of team building, had me all worn out.

Then all of a sudden I felt the head coach’s eyes on me. I turned to look at the baby and a hush went around the room.  Kolby had moved from drawing on the paper to applying masterful pen-strokes to the athletic office walls with her ball point pen and in the blink of an eye destroyed a section of crisply painted walls. They were big black marks swirled in a pattern of childish delight.

I pulled the pen away from her hand and turned with remorse towards the coaching staff.  “I’m so sorry; I’ll pay for the damage.” I groaned.

The head coach raised his eyebrows.

I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from embarrassment. “So much for remaining aloof and noncommittal,” I whispered to the baby.

Tears of humiliation stung my eyes and threatened to leak out.

(I just know they think I’m a terrible mom)

The room remained quiet and everyone held their breath.

I looked up at the head coach, and he smiled back and shook his head, silently communicating not to worry about baby’s graffiti.  His eyes twinkled with empathy, even levity, and I relaxed and finally smiled again.

 And I knew, in that exact moment, this is where I want my son to go to high school.

This man’s grace towards a bumbling mother spoke volumes about the integrity of his program and the condition of his heart.  I knew he would take care of my son, not only in football but in life as well.

And now that we’ve already left our mark on their wall, maybe it’s a sign.

(Of course, a large inheritance would also be a good sign to help foot the bill)

Donations welcome.

Baby Kolby--Born to be Wild

Fantasy Football Conspiracy Theory

Useful stats

Image by squidpants via Flickr

I have a conspiracy theory.  Somewhere in the world, in a hidden room decked out with 72’ HDTV’s, endless remote controls, and lazy boys lined up in a row, a secret society of Fantasy Football Illuminati is conspiring to take over the world, one league at a time. 

My husband thought my theory was absurd, until we walked into a local Sports Bar on a Sunday afternoon that was as packed to the gills with screaming Fantasy Football fans dressed in sports attire. The internet connection was down in the restaurant after being bombarded by team owners checking their points on their iPhones. That night we watched a promo for a new show on TV about Fantasy Football called The League.  The next morning the news released a story suggesting that Fantasy Football has become the new Internet Porn for guys at work.  But, the icing on the cake has been the many guys in our congregation who have sheepishly confessed to my husband, a pastor, of their inner torment when debating between attending church or snuggling up in front of the game on Sunday morning.

At some point, I got his attention and a begrudging acknowledgement from him on my tongue in cheek theory.  This has opened up a great dialogue as to the many reasons why the game has recently gained a disproportionate amount of popularity among mainstream American males. So, maybe the secret room (in all reality) is full of ad executives from ESPN, but there is no doubt that a movement from within our culture has changed the face of sports fans and what used to be a hobby for a dedicated few, has turned into a phenomenon.

Exactly how many dudes are we talking about? Well, there are about 30 million fantasy players in the U.S. and Canada, which is an increase of 54 percent from just two years ago.[1]  According to Tim Keller, commissioner of The Men of Mariners League, part of the growing interest in Fantasy Football may be attributed to the growing availability of free game software.  In the beginning of the Internet boom, sites like Commissioner.com and RotoNews.com charged a hefty fee for commissioners (up to $300) which made the game cost prohibitive for the average NFL fan.  Most commissioners spent an inordinate amount of hours hand entering stats into an excel spreadsheet.  It was a job that only the dedicated and few could maintain.

That changed in 1999, when Yahoo began offering a free simplified version of the league software, but it was lackluster at best, and if you wanted the Stat Checker you had to pay extra. In 2009 Yahoo made an even more impressive move by offering their formerly Premium Services for free. ESPN followed suit, and all of a sudden Fantasy Football became available to the masses.  In a time of economic downturn, this little gift is akin to trading the injured Clinton Portis for Adrian Peterson.

Another factor driving the venerated game is quite simply—camaraderie.   Guys enjoy having a common purpose and goal.  The heckling at the water cooler, the taunts, the late night trades and the draft party take alienated men who struggle with relational skills and transform them into skilled negotiators.  After approaching my husband about drafting my own team this year, I was surprised at his vacuous response.  After some probing, I realized he didn’t really want me to join his league or any other for that matter.  He associates Fantasy Football as a “guy thing” and subconsciously wanted to protect one of the last bastions of inherent maleness.  I respect his stance of inclusiveness, and though I may still draft a team on Yahoo next year, I won’t push him to let me join the guys.  I will go after his drafting stats though because they are a work of art (a complex algorithm he created on a spreadsheet)!

Then there is the sheer fun of the game.  Like any hobby or recreational activity, Fantasy Football is an escape from reality. No mindless waste of time here, drafting a team requires gut instinct, intense preparation, knowledge and yes…mad skill. Managing a team, tracking free agents, monitoring injured players and figuring out what players to start each week is a labor intensive activity. 

Is it any surprise that over half the players surveyed admitted they spend at least one hour per day thinking about their fantasy football team.[2] Another study from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association revealed that fantasy sports participants spend about three to four hours on the Internet per week, with nearly 1.2 hours of that time at the office.  This too has become a controversial subject. 

Those who argue against it suggest it is the new Internet porn for a generation of upwardly mobile, white-collar professionals[3], while players shot back with some research of their own. A 2006 Ipsos Survey found that 40 percent of respondents said fantasy sports participation was a positive influence in the workplace. One in five said their involvement in fantasy sports enabled them to make a valuable business contact.  As a wife, I tend to argue the upside…Football or Porn?   Umm, how about Football!

Thumbing through a Fantasy Football magazine, I was struck dumb by the wording of this advertisement.  Fantasy Football is fun.  You can play God with your players. Control their destinies.  Draft them…Trade them…Fire them![4] These are some loaded words, but I think they touch on something deeper than the obvious power play.  Men are dying to break out of their mundane lives and do something extraordinary. 

Fantasy Football is a safe outlet for a serious adrenaline rush.  It is modern warfare at home in front of the TV.  A guy can scream at the screen, take big risks with low-cost, and have a sense of control in a world where his job is uncertain or his kids are blowing out.  Every guy yearns for a sense of purpose, to be fully alive and to feel his heart pumping.  These are God-given desires, embedded in the male DNA…and while I don’t suggest trying to play God, I would suggest that God delights in men playing. 

So, enjoy the affirmation when you make a good trade, revel in your team’s domination and whine with other dudes when you’re running back tears an ACL. But, always be cautious of ad executives exploiting your childlike fun with promises to make you millions betting…and please, no matter how awesome your draft is, don’t quit your day job!

Article first published on Technorati, Oct 14, 2010


[1] Fantasy Sports Trade Assn.

[2] study conducted by outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas

[3] http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_38/b4195081511463.htm

[4] Jim Hurley’s Network  336 N. Broadway, suite 410., Jericho, NY 11753

No room for the homeless in suburbia?

 He caught my eye as I drove up O’Neil Parkway – straggly beard, matted hair, tattered clothes-it was the distinct look of the homeless and my head whipped around in a double take. He staggered down the street, eyes cast downward, muttering to himself.

For those not familiar with my So Cal neighborhood of Ladera Ranch, it is the Disney of master-planned suburbia.  It’s manicured, lush and disturbingly homogenous. Deviation, unless it’s in Christmas light selection is seriously frowned upon. The Ladera association won’t tolerate any brown spots on our lawns and when we left our garbage can outside our backyard fence for a couple of days it provoked an association letter referencing a bylaw stating that no garbage cans can be visible from the street. 

“Oh no…What are they going to do with this guy?” I groaned to baby Kolby in the backseat. She slurped on her pacifier in response.

I tentatively pulled my car over to the right thinking I would stop and talk to the man, but the vehicle on my tail honked at me for blocking the one lane road.  Flustered, I drove on home and told myself I’d stop the next time I saw him, which turned out to be exactly two days later.

I turned the corner on Antonio to grab some nosh before church at the golden arches (yes I know, I’m an egg McMuffin addict) and noticed there were three police cars on the shoulder with lights flashing. I looked around for the cause of disturbance, figuring it must be pretty big to garner soooo much attention, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. 

And then I saw him, the devious criminal in question and my mouth fell open-it was the same homeless man I recognized two days earlier, only this time surrounded by five policemen. The cops had their arms folded and were questioning the man. I stared in bewilderment.  Does it really take a posse of cops to deal with one guy?

After the recent death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, emotions are high, even in Ladera Ranch, and the police force are being very careful around delicate issues (like the mentally ill and homeless among our midst). 

I entered the drive-through and picked up my food, straining to see what was happening, and then quickly drove back around.  The police had cleared out and so had the man. I didn’t see him anywhere on the long stretch of road, so he must have been escorted in the back of their car to another location.

Now, Mission Viejo (which Ladera Ranch is a part of) doesn’t actually have a shelter for the homeless.  When perusing the Mission Viejo Homeless Shelters & Services for the Needy website, I noticed the nearest shelter is 13.08 miles away in San Clemente.  This alone is disturbing on so many levels because there is nowhere for the homeless man to go.  Did the cops drop him off at the city border or did they take him to the nearest shelter in another city that accepts the poor?

Ironically, according to a blog contributor from Watchdog.com, Mission Viejo doesn’t have a homeless problem.  “I’ve seen two people passing through who seem to be homeless, but I’m unaware of any homeless person living here. The homeless people I know of (a man and a woman) have mental issues, and they’ve already rejected the idea of going to shelters. The woman told me about her distrust for government and the system. She’s living on the street because that’s where she wants to live.”

In my opinion, if Mission Viejo doesn’t have a homeless problem, it’s only because the homeless are clearly not welcome here. Now, I recognize this isn’t about the police–the cops are just doing their job (and I am so grateful)–it’s a much deeper issue that goes to the very heart of humanity.

It’s as if we, in Ladera Ranch/Mission Viejo pretend the marginalized in society don’t exist, when the truth is-in this economy-we are all merely one natural disaster or bad decision away from being homeless ourselves.  It’s just that most of us have become so skilled in image management you would never know the true state of our financial affairs. 

Much of Ladera Ranch is in debt up to their eye-balls, properties are foreclosing every day and most people are desperately trying to hold onto homes whose value has plummeted by half.  The only difference between this homeless guy and many of us is a credit card and a job we are clinging on to for dear life.  And our coping mechanism may not be in a brown paper bag, but we find it in an old prescription for anti-depressant meds sitting in our medicine cabinet.

And yet despite the overwhelming economic woes, I get the impression, though no one says it out loud, that having the eyesore poor (i.e. homeless) in plain sight might lower our home values (even more) or somehow destroy the neighborhood. I can only guess the film crew for my Real Housewife neighbor would take every precaution to leave the homeless guy out of the shots in our little paradise.

Why are we so afraid of poverty and brokenness? It’s not a contagious disease. Is this really who we want to be- people living in a gilded cage with no room for the less fortunate?

I understand the appeal of a place like Ladera Ranch. It woos me with its Mr. Rogers charm, but a nagging feeling remains, at what cost have we created our idyllic little utopia?

Sex or Sleep?

The Old Siren of Starbucks

The late summer sun was setting by the time my son’s football practice wrapped up. While the boys grabbed a quick snack, a group of moms lingered nearby chatting and catching up. I tried to appear engaged in the conversation but couldn’t stop big yawns from sneaking out of my mouth.

“I need Starbucks bad,” I said.

My friend Page looked at me like I was nuts. “Sam, it’s 8:30pm, you want coffee now?  Do you have some work to catch up on tonight or something important to do?”

I nodded my head, “Well, sort of-my husband.”

As soon as the words came out, I groaned, because the ladies all started laughing. And then I had to join them. Because the truth is, by Friday night I’m ready for bed at sundown.

With three kiddos, one being a baby who still wakes me up, work, writing, ministry, kids sports, and so on…I’m barely holding my head above water at any given moment.

I blushed and then admitted to them, “Ok, who am I kidding? If my husband is going to get some action tonight, I need a triple Americano, thank you very much!”

***

A recent study by the Edinburgh Sleep Centre asked both men and women if they had to choose between a night of passion or a full night of sleep, which one would they pick? The answer, not surprisingly, was sleep. 

The study, of more than 8,500 people, saw 79 per cent admit they preferred the thought of extra sleep to a night of passion. Only 12 per cent of those surveyed said they got eight hours sleep most nights, even thought 40 per cent believed they couldn’t function properly without it.

Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask. The human condition has a natural hierarchy of needs; food, water, shelter, and then sleep.  A person can survive without sex for awhile (my husband excluded), but they won’t make it too long without sleep. And the reality is, most of us, in this country and in Britain are running so hard and fast that we are ridiculously exhausted and clearly sleep deprived.

So, it’s not that we don’t like sex, but we’d like our sex so much better if we weren’t zombies when we had it. And if we got more sleep, we’d probably feel like having more sex.

(Which brings me back to caffeine, an important job to do, and big yawns)

I went ahead and ordered a tall Americano with the best of intentions, (I mean I really do love my man) but by the time we got home after going out to dinner, put the kids to bed and finally made it to the bedroom, both of us were snoring within two minutes.

Final Score for Friday Night           Sleep: 1                     Sex: 0

(Thank God for Saturday mornings)

Diaper Disaster

Kolby feeding her dolly.

It’s not like she didn’t warn me.

I heard a tiny mew, barely above a whisper from the baby, “mama, poop.”

I didn’t smell anything, so I figured it was a false alarm.

Faith showing Kolby how to eat the orange jello like a little lady!

Or maybe I was in denial.  We were having so much fun scarfing down sticky cinnamon buns, delicate tea sandwiches, and rice crispy treats dipped in white chocolate at the American Girl Doll Salon to give it much thought.

Here's the poop face.

That is, until I picked up the baby to take her to the bathroom.

That’s when I realized she wasn’t kidding.  Her little poop was not so little. Think of a Carrie type explosion, but browner than blood and much lumpier.

Why is it only at the finest (AKA ritzy and overpriced) dining establishments that my baby has a butt explosion worthy of natural disaster?

I tried ever so subtly to carry her through the dining room, with her bum in the air, dripping poo, and somehow remain elegant and unfazed.  The waiters passed me with disdain and all the fancy women and little girls in lovely frocks turned up their noses as I walked by.

Once I got to the bathroom, I laid my little angel down on the changing pad and assessed the damage.  As I pulled off her diaper cover, poop splattered the wall.

All the little girls were pointing and screaming, “stinky!”

AAHHHH YES, the joy of motherhood!

Then the big decision, do I even attempt to salvage her cute little purple panties?

I quickly stuffed them in the trash. Then I used a whole bag of wipes to give a sponge bath. I fished out some extra clothes from her diaper bag and got her dressed.

Then washed my hands and arms and feet. That’s right I said feet.

It was a humbling moment to say the least.

I expected more of the demeaning looks on the way back to the table, but since we had been gone so long, the entire restaurant had cleared from the late-afternoon seating.

There sat my husband at the table all alone.  He glanced up and gave me a weak smile trying to feign empathy that simply doesn’t exist.    He had that “I’m so glad it wasn’t me who had to deal with this crap” look.

And we laughed until we couldn’t laugh anymore.

Because sometimes, (quite frankly)  shit happens to the best of us.

A sweet feast before the poop fiasco!

Happy Mama

From somewhere deep within dreamland I hear the distinctive cry of my eighteen month old baby,” Maaaaaa Maaaaaa.”

I rouse and stumble to her room, pluck her out of the crib, and gently lay her down on the changing table for a fresh diaper. Slowly we make our way down the stairs to the fridge.

Kolby desperately cries and moans, “milka, milka, mama,” over and over.  I grab her sippy cup and pour the kiddie liquid gold.  She claps and squeals in delight. Then I put her on the counter and we grind the beans, and make fresh Starbucks coffee.

The house is quiet.  It’s a stillness so fragile, soon to be broken by the clambering steps of the older kids and daddy down the stairs.

With my treasured cup of coffee in hand, I hold Kolby close as we move to the sofa for morning snuggles.

I take my first sip…”Ahhhh” while Kolby slurps her sippy cup in delight.

I look at her and crack up at the absurdity of our morning addictions.  I need my coffee and Kolby craves her milka milka with a fierceness that border lines cranky. We are two peas in a pod, grasping our cups like they are a life force.

But today Kolby has a treat for me.

She places her chubby little hands on my face and cradles it. She looks deeply into my eyes and says, “Happy… Kolby happy mama.”

Did my tiny little girl just tell me how she felt? (I know right?  The kid is brilliant and reflective no less)

It took me about thirty years to be able to articulate my feelings and express them.  Quite frankly, I am still an emotional stuffer. And now here’s my verbal toddler teaching her mama to stop and smell the roses.

And then it hits me, our morning ritual is far more than milk and coffee, it’s a snapshot of our relationship.

A stolen moment of bliss between a mother and her child.

And we are content exactly where we are. 

SO HAPPY!

Bumper Stickers and Hypocrites

Mark Twain once said, “If Christ were here, there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.”

I pulled my car up to the drive through at McDonald’s last Sunday before church to grab an Egg McMuffin and the black SUV in front of me caught my eye.  The car was rocking back and forth. 

I peered more closely at the vehicle and noticed a church sticker on the back window saying “You Matter to God.” There were also multiple banners representing the Fire Chief and Fire Department from a nearby county as well as a large decal on the back promoting a home-based business.

As I rolled down my window to order, I heard screams from the car.  Surprisingly, it was a woman shrieking so loudly at her husband the car was vibrating. She was berating him with a mouth worthy of the foulest sailor and pummeling him with her fists.

In my entire life, I have never heard such filth spew out of a human being.

She was going on and on about her husband going through the “f-ing drive through instead of eating her GD f-ing home cooking.” And on and on it went.

Nasty, nasty, nasty…in front of her kids no less. (I’d be afraid to eat her cooking too if I was him)

It was a slap in the face to my gender, embarrassing to the fire department and a devastating blow to their business. I’m certainly not EVER going to use them.

But most of all, it was humiliating as a Christian.

I’m thinking…please take down the God stickers.

Order the Happy Meal.

Back off your husband you evil troll.

 And wishing, with all my heart, that the man beside her would have the balls to tell her to zip it.

But he didn’t. He let the she-devil abuse him and go on and on.

I am left with more questions than answers.

What sort of anger has this woman so bent out of shape? Maybe the husband played a role in her diatribe and his passive behavior was simply guilt? Should I have intervened, at least for the sake of her children? Is she postal or just crazy PMSed?

I sat there in my car dumbfounded as tears rolled down my face. They were tears for the innocent kids, their marriage, and for the vicious cycle of verbal and physical abuse this poor family endures.

I pray they seek help.

And I am convicted all the more to seek my Savior in all things…in the hurt, in the anger, and in the pain of life. I know my own heart and it’s capability for depravity.  On some level, aren’t we are all capable of being monsters?

It makes me think about the moments I argue in public with my husband-loudly. I guess that makes me a hypocrite too.

I certainly don’t ever want people to notice my sticker (or worse point me out as the pastor’s wife) and scratch their heads in confusion.

And then call me a hypocrite, one of “those Christians,” or worse, a Pharisee.

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