Saturday, May 31, 2014

How Much Activity Does It Take To Knock Out A Four Year Old?

How much activity does it take to knock out a four year old?  Today was supposed to be a calm quiet day in preparation for my son’s first bike race tomorrow, but plans of this sort so frequently fail to materialize into something concrete.  Instead of a restful day, it was a day filled with constant physical activity, beginning with a morning teeball game. 

The teeball game today was a teeball game like all other teeball games, except the fact that my team has come quite a long way in just five weeks.  Maybe their skills haven’t improved a whole heck of a lot, but they certainly have a much better concept of what to do.  I find myself screaming more to cheer them on than to repeatedly shout directions.  Knowing what to do apparently makes the game more fun for the kids and it has now been several games since someone has declared they were bored.  Of course, my son still on occasion asks, “Are we done yet?”  But at least he no longer groans when I answer, “No, we are still only in the first inning.”

The positions in teeball vary slightly from the positions in baseball.  Since most kids don’t exactly whack the ball, no one plays the outfield.  If they did, they would very likely fall asleep and the word – as well as the emotion – boring, would be far more common.  Instead of an outfield, there are two positions which I refer to as left wing and right wing, which are located on either side of the pitcher’s mound.  In many games, it is the right wing and pitcher (although he/she doesn’t pitch) who see the most action (not including the first baseman who probably does the most running around each game).  In the first two innings, my son played left wing and pitcher and not a single ball was hit to him.  He found this very upsetting so in the third inning I put him at the right wing position – where most of the action was all game.  He was very proud of how well he played, declaring with a huge satisfied smile when the game was over, “I had four catches.”  And he played each one very well – considering he is only four and new to the game.  He stopped two balls that were hit to him, ran up to get one that was tapped into the grass and one he chased down, refusing to give up on it even though it did get passed him.  The first throw included his signature sprint towards first where he stopped abruptly three feet before first base and then released the ball.  He then completed the throw with his cute little bunny hop.  After the first throw, I explained to him that the ball might actually get to the base quicker if he threw it immediately after catching it.  With each succeeding play, his lead up sprint was progressively shorter.

At bat, my son had one really strong and powerful (for a beginner four year old) hit up the middle, but his other two hits were on par with hits from the last several games.  As for base running, in the second inning, as all the runners were heading towards home, my son decided to pause briefly on second base and while he did so, the kid who hit the ball passed him.  Unlike previous times this has happened, my son did not seem upset in the least.  Come to think of it, I’m not even sure he noticed.

When the game was over we headed over to meet up with my father-in-law who was in the middle of geocaching event.  Yesterday, my son had asked when we could go hiking again so we thought it would be nice to meet up with his grandfather, go hiking and pick up a few caches.  My son was excited to see Grandpa-Spider and very excitedly inserted himself in the hunt for caches.  Of course, we referred to the caches as “treasure boxes” which for a kid who loves pirates and treasure maps added to the allure.  Even though my son didn’t find any of the caches personally – there were at least twelve of us out on the trail – he had fun trading items (Grandpa-Spider’s friend supplied the first item for him to commence his trades) and hiking.  Since he does not like to be the caboose and loves to be the leader this gave him incentive to keep up with his Grandfather who also obsesses about being up front and in the lead.  But for every step Grandpa-Spider took with his long legs, my son had to take at least five.  Over all we were very impressed that my son successfully kept up with the big kids hiking about a mile on hilly terrain.

Following the caching, my son and I swung by our church to help with the rummage sale clean up.  While there we picked up a pair of racquetball racquets.  My son has been begging me to teach him how to play tennis for awhile but I hesitated to get him a racquet in fear that he might end up hating the sport. However, seeing the racquetball racquets – which the woman who ran the rummage sale let me take for free - I figured I had nothing to lose getting them.  Yes, it is the wrong type of racquet but for little hands I thought it might be lighter and easier to handle.  So excited was my son to have a racquet, that we ended up stopping at the tennis courts – luckily I had an old tennis ball in my car - on the way home to play.  I could not believe how much fun my son had even though he missed more balls than he hit.  Having to chase after the ball did not diminish his enthusiasm in the least.  I’m glad I picked up the racquets and I’m thrilled he enjoyed playing.  I am very much looking forward to our next trip to the courts.

So exhausted was the little guy after our extremely active day that he was practically falling asleep at the dinner table.  However, he did manage to keep his eyes open long enough for booktime.  While reading the first book he yawned several times and I thought he would certainly be sleeping before the book ended but I was wrong.  He stayed awake for three books and then fell asleep while I read one of my favorite picture books – The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark.  Sadly, he may not have inherited my family’s love of historical fiction.  It seems he frequently falls asleep when I read books of a cultural or historical nature.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Teeball: Invasion of the Gnats

            When the rain started to come down rather heavily this evening, my spouse was convinced the teeball game was going to get rained out.  However, the rain that beat down on our windows and washed away all of my son’s sidewalk chalk art did not fall over the field that was only about ten miles north of us.  When we arrived at the field we were surprised to find everything dry – dry but extremely buggy.  Gnats invaded the field and harassed players, coaches and spectators.  At the start of the second inning, one of my players asked if he could play a position different than he had played in the first inning.  “Sure,” I readily agreed.  “Where would you like to play?” I asked, happy to put him wherever he wanted to go.  “I’d like to play somewhere that has no bugs,” he requested, his eyes shining with seriousness, his smile innocent.  But the bugs were everywhere.  There was no escaping them except in the car and if he wanted to play, the car was not an option.  So we all endured, swatting at the gnats while glancing at the sky to see if the dark clouds had caught up to us.  The weather forecast predicted storms around the starting time of the game, but I’m sure none of you will be surprised to know that the forecast was incorrect.

            My players have all improved over the course of the season.  None of them can catch a ball on a fly and most of them can’t throw very far, but they at least have a better sense of what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.  My son still loves to play first base even though he is yet to catch anything that is thrown to him.  One of these days, however, I suspect he will surprise me and when I least expect him to make a play, the ball will find its way into his glove.  In the second inning, I put him at short stop – my favorite position from back in the day when I used to play – but he strongly rebelled against the position.  He was not happy to be buried way in the back and to protest he intentionally turned his body towards third base, instead of home, when crouching down in the ready position.  Several times I told him to turn, twice I even repositioned his body for him, but my son is stubborn and if he objects to a specific set of directions he refuses to follow them.  While at short, one ball was hit directly to him.  I called his name and told him it was his play.  He quickly pulled himself out of his snit and ran after the ball.  One of the older boys (the one who in previous games tends to barrel over the little ones because he is bigger and faster) ignored me and he charged across the field racing my son to the ball.  My son got to the ball first, but the other boy fell to his knees and wrestled the ball out of my son’s hand and threw it to first base.  My son, annoyed and frustrated that the play had been stolen from him, took off his glove and threw it at his teammate.  Part of me couldn’t exactly blame him, he knew the play had been stolen from him and he wanted the other boy to know that he was angry and hurt. In the final inning, my son played on the pitcher’s mound – his second favorite position - and while in that position he did have the opportunity to make one play.  He still needs to work on his throwing and develop his arm muscles.  Maybe if he gains a bit of strength and improves his form he won’t feel compelled to run three quarters of the distance to first and only then – after the runner has arrived – make the throw.

            As for hitting, my son still hits much better off a gentle pitch than he does off a tee but at least he is hitting the ball, smacking it squarely to the pitcher’s mound each time.  Running is his favorite part of the game.  As soon as he takes off for first base a smile takes over his face.  But he is slow and I think it really does upset him that the other kids are faster.  In one of the innings he was standing on second when the final batter got up.  In teeball, the final batter always hits a homerun and all the kids get to circle the bases.  My son is often passed by the runner behind him and he does not like when that happens.  So, in order to prevent it from happening, he picked up second base and moved it about three feet closer to third base.  Smiling, he then got ready to run and was very dismayed when I told he him had to return the base to where it belonged.  As the kids cross home plate, they line up on the grass between third and home to cheer each other on and to slap the hands of their teammates as they run home to score.  My son also enjoys this very much and in the final inning he was so anxious to hand out high fives that on his way home from third he stopped running, joined his teammates on the sideline and held out his hand.  All I could do was shake my head and sigh since he completely ignored me when I told him to keep running.  I guess giving me a high five just wasn’t as exciting as giving them to his teammates.

            I’m sorry I have only one picture.  I think my spouse is getting tired of being the photographer.  Most of the time I take the pictures but, when it comes to teeball, I can’t play coach and photographer at the same time.

Friday, May 23, 2014


A couple of months ago, I happened to take a picture at a local playground that my photographer mother-in-law really liked.  In fact, she thought I did such a good job taking and processing the photo that she suggested I do an entire playground series.  At the time, I honestly didn’t think a playground series would be terribly interesting.  I mean, it’s a playground.  What could be fascinating about a heap of metal and plastic?  The answer, it turns out, is lots.

            After all the snow from this very wet and cold winter finally melted my four year old son started clamoring to go to the playground – everyday.  Like all children, my son loves to climb, swing and slide.  He can spend hours at the playground, always finding something new and interesting to keep him occupied, happy and excited.  Then one day I decided to bring my camera – something to stimulate me the way the slides stimulate my son - and instead of focusing on my son, I focused on the playground.   Instead of just playing with my son or watching him interact with his friends, I concentrated on my surroundings.  I climbed ladders, stood on top of slides, poked my head in holes and looked at the shadows.  Suddenly, the playground was transformed and I was having as much fun as my son. 

            Now, whenever we go to a different playground I am sure to bring my camera with me.  Sometimes I wonder what the other mothers think as I aim my camera at a reflection in a puddle, an empty bench, a bland pole or the sky but what they think doesn’t really matter. I’m having fun turning the playgrounds upside down and exploring them from angles I never even contemplated on previous trips to countless playgrounds.  Playgrounds are not all the same, they all have their little hidden treasures and mysteries and all you need to uncover them is your imagination and a willingness to act like a child, something I have never struggled to embrace.

            Sometimes I now wonder, if our civilization were somehow wiped out completely and an alien civilization stumbled upon our playgrounds, what would they make of them?  What sort of picture would they depict of us based on our playgrounds?  What would our playgrounds tell them about us as a people?  


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Teeball: Stealing Second Base

Those of you who know me, already know that I am displeased with the fact that teeball games are scheduled for seven o’clock at night.  Seven o’clock is extremely late for four year olds to be out playing, especially when you consider the games last close to an hour and after they are over it takes twenty-minutes to commute home. This means, it is nearly eight thirty by the time the kids are getting ready for bed.  On most nights, my spouse and I aim to have dinner completed by half passed six so that I can begin booktime with my son by seven.  So tonight, at the time when my son and I are generally cuddling with a few good books, we were standing on the grass having a catch while waiting for the earlier teeball game to finish.  At two minutes to seven, I looked at my watch in frustration because the first game was not yet over.  The earlier game was supposed to start at six and there is a forty-five minute time limit – in theory - which meant that the field should have been vacated thirteen minutes earlier.  I asked my spouse to take over the warm up so that I could go find out how much longer the game would last, but my spouse opted instead to inquire as to when the game might end.  This inquiry agitated the other coach who - puffed up with an attitude - curtly replied, “We have a just a few more batters.  We were delayed because of the rain.  Thank you for your patience.”  I’m not sure how much of an impact the rain had on the game since the rain lasted only a short spell and had stopped by six o’clock. But when an already late game is delayed further, sleepy kids tend to lose what little attention span they have.  And coaches, already cranky about the late starting time, get even crankier.

            When the other game finally finished at ten after seven, we immediately began our game.  Earlier this week, my son totally surprised me one day after school when he asked me to play baseball with him. I was more than just a little excited to comply.  Sports after all used to be the center of my universe and I was happy that my son was showing an interest.  I took out the bat and ball and instead of using a tee (since we don’t own one) I gently pitched the ball to my son.  And I was super thrilled when he actually hit the ball – multiple times.  What surprised me most was that without me adjusting his stance, he seemed to swing much more naturally at a pitch than he ever did at a tee.  Granted his swing is a long way from perfect, but he lost much of his awkwardness as he lunged after the pitch.  We played for awhile and when the bat seemed to grow heavy in his hands he asked if we could use the plastic bat and ball instead.  I didn’t mind in the least.  I was happy that he wanted to play, and we played for over a half hour.  And it wasn’t just that once that he wanted to play.  Two other times during the week he came home eager to play ball with me.  So, after more practice in one week then he probably had collectively up until last Monday, he started today’s game with slightly more confidence and enthusiasm.  

            Standing at the tee his stance was more relaxed than it had been in previous games and when he swung he hit the ball with a touch of power.  Of course, he stared at the ball, watching the opposing team swarm around it.  Only when my loud voice, screaming at him to run, finally registered in his ears did he threw the bat (this is something we need to work on not doing) and took off in a slow sprint to the base.  The poor kid tries so hard to run fast, but his little legs just don’t carry him as quickly as he wants.  The other day when we were on the playground he actually asked me, “Why aren’t my shoes doing more to make me go faster?  They are supposed to be super fast shoes.”  I felt sad.  He wants so badly to be fast and he tries so hard, but his body refuses to act in accordance with with his mind.

Despite his lack of speed, I love watching him run the bases because he simultaneously exasperates and entertains me each time.  His innocence, naivety and idiosyncrasies never fail to bring a smile to my lips and sometime a chuckle to my throat.  At one point during the game, when he was running from second to third, he stopped in mid-stride to field the ball that his teammate had hit.  Bending down he picked up the ball, threw it in the direction of first and then continued on his way to third base.  He was just so cute, but at the end of the inning, I explained that when he is wearing a helmet, his only job in the field is to run.  “But Mama,” he argued, “The ball was right there, I had to pick it up.”  Another time, after reaching second, he picked up the base and started to brush off the dirt. For a moment, I actually thought he might try to steal the base and run off with it. I had to shout out to him to return it to where it belonged.  Tomorrow, we will have to have a discussion about dirt and the fact that sometimes dirt can be a good thing, or at the very least, not bad.  

My son and I still have lots of work to do on his fielding – both catching and throwing.  During warm ups he asked me to throw the ball "up."  He did not want another grounder.  Against my better judgment, I tossed the ball in the air, my son extended his glove and the ball promptly bounced off the bill of his cap and landed on the ground in front of him.  “Again, again,” he screamed, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it again.  I did not want him to start the game with a concussion, so the next ball I tossed to him was a grounder that went straight through his legs as he brought the glove down about a second and a half too late.

In the field, my son  is getting a little better about running to the ball after it is hit, but there is still a long lag between catching (and I use the term loosely) the ball and throwing it.  To compensate for the lack of strength in his arm, each throw begins with a running start.  He lowers his head like a charging bull, runs as hard as he can then abruptly stops and throws the ball with all his might.  If he is lucky the ball will travel three feet and every time, after completing his throw, he somehow ends up near the ground in a crouching position.  For the last inning, he asked if he could play first base.  Since I want the kids to have fun, I usually grant their requests, unless they have already played the requested position once already that day.  I’m still afraid my son might get hurt playing first, but I also know he’ll never learn if he never plays the position.   All the kids who play first want to hover over the bag.  I suppose that seems most natural.  They have the hardest time stepping away from the base while the batter is up, and once the ball is hit, they need to be reminded to run back to the bag.  My son, like most of the players, likes to stand with two feet planted squarely on the base.  Several times I had to show him that he is only supposed to put his right foot on the corner of the base while holding out his glove to make the catch.  Not once did the ball find its way into his glove, but that seems to be common for teeball. My son would stand waiting patiently for one of his teammates to throw the ball and then he would chase after it once he neglected to catch it. But just recovering the ball and throwing home to the opposing team’s coach seemed to make him happy.  And not once all game did he say he was bored, so maybe he is finally starting to enjoy teeball.