Monday, April 26, 2010

Re-LAX. It's Just A Game.

After years of schlepping and carpooling and spending close to $4 million on tennis clubs, tennis lessons, tennis clinics and tennis gear, my son decided that he wanted to play lacrosse instead. I say “instead” because as far as high school teams are concerned, it’s an either/or decision. Both tennis and lacrosse are spring sports for boys.

The decision came less than a year ago, when my then-middle-schooler came home one Wednesday afternoon and announced that if he showed up to practice that week, he could still make the 8th grade lacrosse team.

“Show up,” it turns out, meant: Show up in full LAX gear. Stick, helmet, shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves. We needed it all. He had gone to a lacrosse summer program a few years back and I’d bought him gear for that. All new, all expensive. He’d quit after three days, saying it wasn’t for him. So this time I told him to get on the phone to his cronies; if he could borrow all the gear he needed, I’d pay the team registration fee. Which he did, and I did, and that’s how my son started playing lacrosse.

At that point I’d never actually seen a lacrosse game played. I didn’t even know what the “stick” would look like. I assumed it was French in origin (perhaps from the name, the spelling of it) and so I figured it had some of those same characteristics of other European sports – it’s own vocabulary, maybe some wacky system of scoring, lots of hand-shaking at the end. I was a tennis mom, used to my son playing a sport where he was far, far away from his opponent – a net between the two.

I’m not kidding when I say the first game I watched I had to be held upright by one of the other dads. “They’re hitting each other,” I said in horror. “They’re hitting each other with sticks.”

The dad steadied me and smiled. Then he went back to watching the game. “Get him!” he’d yell at one of our team members. “Hit him!”

Didn’t we all just spend the last 14 years teaching our boys not to hit each other with sticks? I thought. That lesson is toast the minute your boy steps onto a lacrosse field.

Lacrosse falls someplace between hockey and football. It’s unimaginably violent. Someone once told me that it actually hails from the Native Americans and that the “ball” being tossed about was in fact some unfortunate soul’s decapitated head. None of my research corroborates the head part, but it did come from North America and was used, in part, to train young boys for war.

But when the game is played well – when the team is “on” – it’s as beautiful as a ballet. Boys, fast and fluid, dodging and weaving, creating a visual rhythm on the field. They slow things down, they speed it up. They’re running and passing and talking and scooping like a vicious little symphony. In my prime, and on my best, most lucid day, I was never able to think fast enough to have been able to play this game.

The games at the stadium can be glorious. Sun shines on the bleachers, the air smells sweet. The moms often sit together in a group; most of the dads stand on the sideline. Some moms have been at this a long time. They explain to the rest of us which hitting is legal and which garners a penalty. They explain what the “crease” is and who can be in it. They explain under which circumstances a defender can cross the mid-field line. What the implications are when a team is “man down.” We all listen attentively, while at the same time trying to hold upright the new moms – those who’d never seen the game played before.

“Oh my god, they’re hitting each other,” one will say to me as she grabs at my forearm. “Oh. My. God!”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tennis Lessons From The Princess Bride

Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead.

Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Sometimes I feel like the Vizzini of tennis. William Goldman’s quirky, heady character from The Princess Bride who, with no physical abilities whatsoever, tries to outmaneuver his foe on cleverness alone. If I could actually smash my overhead smashes, I wouldn’t need to spend any time at all trying to figure out what my opponent’s next move would be. She wouldn’t have a next move. The point would be over.

Tennis is a head game, it’s true. That’s one of the reasons I love it. But unfortunately it can take me an entire set to figure out the other team’s game. And even then, I’m not always sure what to do about it.

At one point during last Friday’s match, Gina turned to me and said, “What would Laura (the Tennis Pro) tell us to do?”

I was glib. “She’d tell us to play more aggressively,” I said. And we tried that, but it didn’t work. “She’d tell us to mix it up,” I said later. And that worked a little better.

The best advice for me would have been to just get out of my own way. Stop the Vizzinni monologue entirely. Stop worrying about whether I was disappointing my partner, or whether the women across the net thought I was gracious enough. Or worthy enough.

Just make a plan and carry out that plan. That’s not necessarily a winning formula. But the when my entire game is about reacting to what’s coming at me, I’m basically just sitting around waiting until someone else screws up. Trying to figure out how to avoid the poison, when what I should be doing with that Man In Black is taking out my machete and lopping off his head.

(No offense, Prince.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Big Day Update

That didn't go so well.

My Big Day

In a little while, I’m going to play in a tennis match. This is noteworthy in that I don’t play team tennis. I play in clinics and in a regular friendly game with a bunch of women I know. But I rarely play against strangers, and never under circumstances that in any way “count.”

Today, I’m subbing for someone on vacation. I was asked by my Monday clinic-mate Gina. It’s her partner who’s away, so Gina asked me if I would play with her in this match.

This is Gina’s first year on the tennis team. I’ve played with her for years in the Monday clinic, and I also played with her on Fridays until this past September. Her team matches are scheduled for Fridays, so she had to drop out of that clinic this year. I was despondent about that for a while – actually, for the whole preceding summer -- but once her game season started, I had a complete shift in consciousness and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

I’d like to say this was because I had decided to put someone else’s needs and happiness ahead of my own, but in fact it was the opposite.

Gina’s playing on a tennis team all of a sudden gave my life meaning.

Once Gina started competing in matches, my feelings about my Monday Clinic changed almost immediately. I’ve always loved the people in the group and the drills that we do, and all of a sudden the whole thing became not only “fun” but “important.” I fancied us all having a job to do on Monday at noon, and that was to spend the next hour and a half prepping Gina for her game. If I was having an off day, I would try harder than usual to pull myself together and play better for Gina’s sake. I would spend my meager mental resources strategizing ways to get back her killer cross-court return. I didn’t want her to rest on her superpower-forehand laurels. I wanted her to be ready to crush her competition on Friday, so that my tennis clinics could be elevated from the frivolous and expensive 90 minutes that they’d always been, to something useful and purposeful and necessary.

And now all those years of frivolity and expense will add up to even more than just assisting in someone else's glory. What I'm saying here is that I've spent the last nine days in training, practicing strokes and strategy, not just so I can go home and lie in bed at night and say, Why are you spending so much of your life on a tennis court, you old, foolish woman? I've practiced so I can go out and kick some serious suburban tennis butt!

So, minutes from now, I will don my black skirt and a white top (team colors!) and throw on my Converse All Star hoodie with the skull and crossbones across the front (because Gina wears a lot of skull accessories and this will make me feel even more teamish) and drive out to a tennis club I’ve never been to and play against women I’ve never met, and with any luck, maybe even win.

We’re playing on the lowest level team, in the lowest level position, but still. I’m on a TEAM today. Go, me!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Facebook is Noshing is Smoking is Resting

I take a lot of shit about the amount of time I spend on Facebook. Here’s the deal.

Thing 1: My husband set up my computer so that when I launch my browser, some tabs come up that automatically access certain sites. Meaning, when I open Firefox, Facebook opens automatically.

In some ways, this is my downfall. If I sit down for a even a minute at my computer, Facebook beckons. And because I am a nosy, Gladys Kravitz type of person, I cannot help just taking a small peek to see what people are up to. Then I make a comment. Then I post an update. Then it’s all downhill from there.

Thing 2: Facebook provides exactly the right combination of “doing something while doing nothing” that I seem to need for my mini-respites throughout the day. Long ago, I used to smoke cigarettes for the same reason. Sitting at my desk and smoking a cigarette provided me with the “rest time” that I needed to transition from one task to another. After I stopped smoking cigarettes, those rest times were recreated through snacking. After I went on Weight Watchers, the snacks had to be replaced with something, and that something has been Facebook.

I’m not going to try and convince anyone that I am not a Facebook addict. I am completely consumed with playing Scrabble on Facebook and I use my Scrabble moves as harmless (calorie- and nicotine-free) incentives to complete the many dreary chores that constitute my day.

I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t snack. I don’t do drugs. I don’t like to shop. I don’t watch TV (except for Lost and Glee and an occasional Judge Judy while I’m folding the laundry). I don’t do crack or shoot heroin or seduce teenage boys on the internet. I spend too much time on Facebook (and too much money on tennis). If this is what I will burn in hell for, so be it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

MY March Madness

I’m trying to clean my desk, but I can’t throw my Kohl’s receipt away.

It’s dated 3/4/10. That was the day my kid’s were begging me to bring them to Game Stop to get a new horrible video game. Normally I would say no, but Game Stop is right next to Kohl’s and I just that day realized that my winter parka was so old and ugly and shoddy that I couldn’t wear it a single day more. So I agreed to bring them to the game store in the hope that I could find an inexpensive replacement parka next door.

It was March, so I know the pickins’ would be slim. There was exactly one small rack of winter jackets left. It was tucked behind all the bathing suits. The only attractive thing about it was the sign: 70% OFF! Most of the jackets were not my taste, but they had some nice Columbia parkas with zip-out linings – some were red, some brown. There was one plum-colored parka but it was only the shell; the lining was missing. I looked all through the crowded coats for the missing lining. It was nowhere.

I really liked the plum coat, so I took the lining out of the red version and zipped it into the plum shell and took the coat, along with two jackets for my 10-year-old and multiple packages of boys’ sweat socks, up to the register.

Immediately, I was nailed.

“This liner doesn’t go with this coat,” the cashier said. He could tell this instantly because they really don’t match. “I can give you just the shell and take 10% off since it’s damaged.”

I told the cashier the whole story -- not about my ugly Land’s End coat from 2001 that I couldn’t wear a day longer, but about switching the linings because I need a complete winter coat: shell and liner both. I explained that the store was really in no different position; there’s still a shell on the rack with no lining…it just happens to be a red shell now. Then I waited with fingers crossed to see if he would let me buy the newfangled plum coat.

The Columbia coats were originally $220 and reduced to $66 on the rack. Additionally, I had a 20% coupon for my entire purchase, so I was already starting to experience that giddy feeling that comes with getting a two-hundred-dollar-something for under fifty bucks. I crossed more fingers and shot a look at my kids for them to do the same.

The cashier called his manager and the manager called her supervisor. The supervisor went off in the direction of the coat rack and we all stood stock-still. The phone next to the register rang. The cashier picked up the receiver. “Okay. Okay. Okay,” he said.

“We can give you the whole coat,” he said, turning to me as he hung up the phone. “And we’ll take off 10%.”

I looked quickly at my kids and screamed silently with just my eyes.

After all the reductions, the coat itself cost $48 and I’ve already gotten my money’s worth out of it. But the receipt is the real treasure. Total purchase price: $90.24 for three coats and several 6-packs of socks. Total saved: $243.76!!!! The cashier circled that number in red.

Then he gave me $10 of Kohl’s Cash so I could come back another day and have another out of body experience.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dust In The Wind

The teenager and I have a new game we play. We learned it from a friend of his. I don’t know if it has a name and even if it does, you’d never say it. Part of the strategy is to start the game before anyone else knows you’re playing. That assures you the first point. It goes like this:

We’re in the car driving and the radio is on. The game starts out of the blue as someone yells out the name of the artist whose song is playing. Then in the same breath they recite the score: 1-0-0 (if it’s the three of us playing). One for the guesser, zero for the others.

Even if one of the boys gets that first-point-edge, I usually win the game. We listen to classic rock stations. It’s all “my music.”

But oddly enough, I don’t win by a landslide. My son can get most of the Beatles’ songs in just a few notes. I can never identify an Eagles song as such. And for some reason, I can’t tell the difference between Aerosmith and AC/DC.

Sometimes it takes me the entirety of a song to actually pinpoint the name of the artist. Songs that I know every word to. Songs that I can picture the band members. But I just….can’t….place…the…CHEAP TRICK!!! I’ll pull it out somehow right as the song is ending. (If you call it afterward, it doesn’t count.)

I try not to be smug, but I take a certain amount of pride in being the only one in the car who can name Jimmy Buffet. It gives me the littlest bit of street cred with the boys, but more importantly I think it might be helping my hopelessly enfeebled memory.

In the last year or so, I really can’t remember anything. Food burns in the oven, I sit in store parking lots racking my brain to recall my purpose for being there. I’ve put things in the microwave and 30 seconds later have no idea what I’ll find in there when the bell rings.

I’m not sure if the “radio game” will reverse any of that – it might. In the meantime, I’m spending my Friday night in the kitchen, surrounded by eight teenage boys. My son’s friend and I are having a face off in the minutes before they all go out to play Man Hunt on this first warm spring night. “ERIC CLAPTON!” I yell, “3-3.”

“We’ll play to five,” he says.

“GRATEFUL DEAD! 4-3!” I can get most Dead songs within the intro, even without a working memory.

“SANTANA!” I yell. There’s no reason to recite the score at this point. I just won. There’s no reason to yell either. But this game, it’s just so darn fun.

There’s also no reason for me to be spending my Friday nights at home, playing silly games with a bunch of teenage boys – arguably the most immature subculture of our species – except that I know this won’t last. That soon they will all have better things to do on a Friday night than hang around someone’s house playing Man Hunt. But while they’re here, I want to relish it. I want to remember it. I want it to be as clear and as indelible as that Kansas song I just scored. The one where you close your eyes for a moment, and the moment is gone.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Come Cry With Me

When my husband and I left the AA Meeting the other night, he asked me if I’d cried. No, I told him. I just teared up a little.

“That’s crying,” he said. “Tearing up is crying.”

I don’t actually agree with that, but it seemed a crazy thing to debate so I let it ride.

“For some reason you label it ‘crying’ based on audibility, not eye moisture,” he said. (I’d had a very tough week with more than my fair share of audible eye moisture, so I felt like this was an accurate portrayal of me.)

He went on: “I consider any moisture in the eye to be crying. If I’m riding my bike on a windy day and my eyes tear, that’s crying.” I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that information. At the very least, it deepened for me what I consider the Endless Mystery of Men.

Later that weekend, my kids and I watched Blindside on DVR. We took bets on who would cry during this famously touching movie, going so far as to wager who would “cry first.” My sons have never cried during a movie. Not even during Up. The teenager thinks it’s both charming and revolting that I heave and sob while a pile of tissues grows on my lap.

I watched Million Dollar Baby with him. He didn’t cry. Juno, where Micheal Cera climbs into the hospital bed with her and they just lie together, silent. No tears. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a personal mission to simply find a movie that will break him down.

“That’s so sad,” my older son said about Big Mike when he told Sandra Bullock he’d never had a bed. I’d seen that clip in trailers about a hundred times and still I started convulsing as soon as Big Mike delivered his line.

The little one passed me a box of tissues. “We win,” he said. The teenager looked over at me with bemused pity.

I feel so good after a Movie Cry. It never produces that hangover feeling like a Fight Cry or a Therapy Cry, or what I imagine to be an AA Cry. A Movie Cry is just pure release.

I looked over at my boys -- my "Mystery Men in Training" -- and tried to detect a touch of eye moisture. I couldn't. “As usual,” I told them, “you have no idea what you’re missing.”