Monday, April 23, 2012

A Baseball Dad is Born

The mid-season NAO tournament was this past weekend and man was that a lot of baseball!  It started on Thursday night with Diego's game.  Then two each for both teams on Saturday, then one more for Diego on Sunday, along with two more for Jackson's team (the Manor Hellcats), who made a nice run and ended up ranked fourth in their age group.  Both boys, in their first times out there playing the sport, have become important members of their respective teams.

Unlike their dad back in his day, both my sons seem to want the ball to come their way, to see what they can do with it.  Jackson is an infielder, like his Uncle Mike, and gets a good deal of action standing at the pitcher's mound during t-ball.  Diego is in left field, as I was at his age.  Unlike me, however, Diego gets disappointed when no balls get hit to him in the course of a game.  I always heaved a big sigh of relief when the defensive half of the inning went by without anything coming to me.

I did have a pretty strong throwing arm, which Diego seems to have inherited.  He has had a few nice put outs -- of kids rounding first, surprised to see the ball end up behind them in the first baseman's glove, of kids trying to stretch singles into doubles, thanks to overzealous first base coaches, and one beauty at home plate.  On this last one, Diego threw a strike from left, and it got there so quickly, the poor kid tried to run back to third before the catcher tagged him out.

Jackson stands at the pitcher's mound with so much confidence, I can't help but think it's where he belongs.  He's caught a couple of line drives for outs, and gobbles up ground balls with beautiful footwork, before tossing the ball to his first baseman, who almost always drops it. 

In the heat of competition I have had to check my responses.  I don't want to be That Dad, and never thought I would be.  Honestly though, he's in there, lurking near the surface.  When I watch either boy compete, I inch closer to the edge of my seat, palms sweating and I have to remind myself to keep breathing and keep smiling.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Little Things to Like About a Big School

With 3,065 students -- the largest reported enrollment  of any high school in Central Texas -- Cedar Ridge could soon become an athletics giant.
                                                                        -- Austin American Statesman

I'm finishing off my first school year as one of five assistant principals at Cedar Ridge, and am coming to terms with not being a "small schools guy" any more.

My standard sound bite has been that I try to bring a "small schools mentality" to the big school.  Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds good and folksy, like I'm coming from a tiny rural district in West Texas, where the principal doubles as the bus driver and the football players all play both offense and defense.

The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of little things to like about a big school. 

I love driving up to a big Texas high school in the fall, when the sun is hitting the parking lot hash marks, and casting long shadows on the marching band as they work out their formations.  The digital metronome clicks out a beat that can be heard for miles, and the amplified voice of the director, standing 50 feet up in the tower, barks out feedback. 

"Faster, Cody!  I need you to be faster than that!"

I love the sight of the choir, dressed in their formal wear of black tuxedos and dresses, loading on to cheese buses that will take them to the statewide UIL competition.

I love the SWAG.  Every new Cedar Ridge T-shirt I receive is like that Christmas present in back of the tree that I hadn't seen before, or the Easter egg that none of the other kids noticed behind the drainpipe.

Oh, and in the case of my particular large school, I love driving past the horse stables as I roll up at around 8 in the morning.  The only horses I ever saw at my small schools in New York were the mounted police who clopped by every so often, causing my students to ooh and aah and ask if they could put their horses. 

I suppose the one thing that remains the same is the attitude I try to bring through the door every day.  Humor, kindness and a positive pre-supposition that the rest of the people in the building -- adults and children alike -- are there for the right reasons are probably the three best things I bring (and have always brought) to the table.  My hope is that this will benefit the young people I work with, whether in a school of 300 or 3,000.  Only time will tell. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pledging Allegiance

Since coming to the state of Texas in 2008, I've been directly employed by two schools -- Austin High School and now Cedar Ridge High in Round Rock. I've also worked indirectly for secondary schools in Lubbock, Crosbyton, Dallas, Fort Worth, Haltom City, Everman, Atlanta (TX) and Manor. There have been awkward moments at all of these schools, especially now that I am more solidly "embedded" where I am at Cedar Ridge, when I'm in a classroom or some other public spot, and the announcements come on, normally at the beginning of the second block.

First comes the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag, a droning liturgy of rote memorization that I hold deep in the recesses of my cerebral cortex. It rolls off my tongue, and I'm happy to recite it, not out of any excessive sense of patriotism (Lord knows I could never be accused of that) but because I respect the fact that my students may have relatives in the armed services and that some of my teachers have served as well. I figure these people deserve my respect, so I drone the pledge like everyone else, hand on heart, standing tall, as I guess a role model should.

Then comes the much stranger experience for me: the Texas pledge. Growing up in New York, I never had to learn a second pledge. Intoning to one flag -- the big one -- was enough. Texas, in all its self-adoring pride, pledges allegiance to its own flag. My boys do it every morning, facing the Lone Star flag.

I mention it now only because I caught myself yesterday morning at 10:44, standing in my office, and saying the words from memory for the very first time:

Honor the Texas flag,
I pledge allegiance to thee.
Texas, one state under God,
One, and indivisible.

I'm not sure why it happened or what it means. Perhaps I am now a Texan, despite that I'm "not from Texas," as Lyle Lovett sings.

Oh and by the way, if you just stood up, with your right hand in a pledge salute, you're a Texan too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Unthinkable

Last Friday, on the morning of Friday the thirteenth no less, I came close to being in a serious automobile accident -- with both my sons in the backseat of the car. I had woken up exhausted and looking forward to the end of what had been a difficult work week. My usual obsessive concern about the children getting to school on time gave way to a carefree sense of "Ah, it's Friday. We've been early every day this week, so screw it. If they're a couple of minutes late, we'll live with that."

Lately I've been taking a new route, introduced by a friend, that takes me through the farmlands of "Old Manor," both to the boy's school and then to my job.

That morning, we were in the middle of the usual banter, with their music blaring through the car speakers. (I tolerate KISS-FM," or whatever it is until they get out, then switch back to KGSR -- my station.)

Rihanna or Katy Perry or somebody was emoting to a heavy beat, and we were talking about the likelihood of extraterrestrial aliens coming to our town, when I absentmindedly took a right on Fuchs Grove Road, which took us toward my job, rather than left to their school.

"Don't worry," I said, "I'll just turn around here. I don't think you'd have been on time anyway. It's already one minute past the late bell."

At that very moment -- 7:41 in the morning on Friday the 13th -- I made a leisurely broken U-Turn, and as I made a left onto the normally barren road, I totally failed to see a blue sedan coming at us in the right lane, at full speed.

Rather than lean on the horn, the driver did what most people do here instead: he flashed the headlights at me. I floored it and luckily no one was coming from the other direction. We made it out unscathed, the sound of the other car's tires skidding to slow down behind me. I watched him right himself and continue driving away in my rear view mirror.

"Holy shit we almost died," I said without irony. It was a moment of complete, unabashed, breathless sincerity.

The boys found this hilarious, of course, and giggled at my having uttered "the S word." My heart felt like it would leap up my throat and out my mouth, and I couldn't stop apologizing to my sons in the back.

"It's okay, Daddy," Jackson reassured me. "Nothing happened. We're all okay."

I knew that I had been granted a major reprieve, and that had the stars been aligned to even the slightest variation of where they were at that terrifying moment, my world, and that of my entire family, could have been changed forever. I had to shake off the urge to imagine the unthinkable -- shattered glass, misshapen metal, children's bodies broken, all because a weary father didn't do the one thing he consistently tells the boys to do -- look both ways when they cross the street.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Chess Connection

Suddenly and unexpectedly, our 9 year old Diego has become a chess enthusiast. He was introduced to it at school; our local Superintendent has a vision that every student in the district will become proficient in the game of chess. The thinking is that all of the skills one needs to do well in chess are the skills needed to exceed in school, and in life, as well. Apparently the research supports this.

Yesterday morning at about 9 I brought Diego over to Blake Manor Elementary, where he was to participate in the district's annual chess tournament. It was his first time competing in the game of chess, other than the games he and I play on my wife's iPad, or the games he plays with friends in his after school program, presumably.

I wasn't sure how he'd do; in fact, I was pretty sure he'd play one game and be vanquished by a more serious player. I had him dressed in full little league baseball uniform, so that we could hop in the car and head over to his game.

Six hours later, Diego was done. Bleary eyed, he came out of the heavily guarded elementary school gymnasium sporting two medals. Apparently he'd spent the day(the entire day) playing in two different brackets -- third grade intermediate, in which he'd won a bronze third-place medal, and third grade beginner, for which he'd won the silver, for second place.

To say I was proud doesn't quite do the emotions justice. It's one of those primal things, when a dad sees a son do well in competition. It's a joy that defies description, even by those who pride themselves in putting words together for effect.

I think the reason this particular activity hit me so hard is that it connects me, quite directly, to my past and to my family. When I picture my grandfather -- my Opa -- Bill Fuchs, I see him sitting in his chair in Larchmont, New York, at 42 Maple Hill Drive. He's wearing a cardigan and horn-rimmed glasses and is smoking a cigar. He's contemplating a book, the newspaper, or the chessboard. It was not unusual for him to have a number of games going via post; apparently one of his favorite opponents was a man who was incarcerated at Sing Sing, if I'm remembering right. I wish I'd thought to ask for more details.

My father, too, enjoyed chess, and taught my brother Mike and me at a fairly young age. I have a vague recollection of trying to watch one of the televised chess tournaments on ABC's Wide World of Sports. It may have been Bobby Fisher and Kasparov, I'm not sure.

Neither Dad nor Opa lived long enough to meet my children. I wonder if the intensity of my emotions can somehow be ascribed to this fact. Maybe some residual emotion, left over from whatever remains of their spirits, has joined with my own pride to make my heart swell, seeing my son contemplating his next move, cheek resting on his palm, much as I did at his age, and as my father did, and his father before him.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When "Salt-and-Pepper" is Just "Gray"

I just caught a glimpse of myself in the early-morning mirror of a plate glass window, and my beard was so gray it was striking. Okay, if someone were describe it kindly, they might say "salt-and-pepper." Not only do I have the usual, obvious reaction about aging, but I'm also reminded of the summer of 1980, when I was 17 and my father would have been 52 -- just a few years older than I am now.

I recall this moment because it was the one time in my life I remember my father intentionally growing a beard. We were staying in a rented house on Old Montauk Road in Montauk, Long Island. It was modern and on stilts and had a commanding view of the beach. Having two weeks off, my dad decided he would let the beard go, and we were all struck by how gray it was. It was a bit of a wake up call, I realize now -- a reminder of the time that had gone by without our having noticed.

So I'll need to do two things: First, I'll need to live life as I did back then at 17 -- with abandon and a sense of wonder. (Okay, not as recklessly.) And two . . . I'm gonna go shave this thing OFF.