"I’ll Deal with The Denver Nuggets Later, Right Now I Need to do Something About That Baby."

When your screaming baby is more of a concern to the front desk than an NBA team doing what NBA teams do in hotel rooms, it’s hard to know how to feel.

Because we were only 17 miles from our home, you couldn’t really call what we did a “Babymoon.” Instead of heading down to Puerto Rico (an early idea), we spent a day enjoying all the Christmas-related activities Philadelphia offers in December.
We strolled through the Christmas Village, took the obligatory photos in front of the Holiday Tree, stood next to a rack of bras and watched the Macy’s Christmas Light Show from the women’s intimate wear section on the third floor of the department store, and gawked at the animatronic characters that bring “A Christmas Carol” to life in the impressive, 6,000-square-foot walk-through of Dickens Village.
Then, instead of heading back home, we spent the night at an expensive downtown hotel, eating room service in our ridiculous bathrobes (I stole mine!). On the drive home the following day, we made a pact to do it again next year – with an 11-month-old baby.
As our daughter Emma screamed her way through the 50 minute, traffic-filled drive to the city, we had second thoughts about the tradition we were trying to start.
Those fears proved unfounded. The minute Emma got out of the car, she was mesmerized by the lights, the sounds and the smells of Christmas time in Philly – a mix of pine trees, cold weather, fried foods, and the faint odor of stale urine. Everything we enjoyed the previous year was magnified tenfold by the new addition of the baby we affectionately refer to as Beans. Emma’s Uncle Joe even met us for a few hours and bought her a new pair of gloves. I still have a clear picture of how happy Joe looked carrying Emma and her new gloves around.
When it was time to call it a day, again we opted for a fancy hotel that’s ordinarily well outside of our price range. Thanks to an insane Groupon deal, we’d secured a spot at the Loews Hotel.
Here’s how you can tell if the hotel you’re staying at is really, really nice: Opposing professional sports teams stay there. On this particular night, the Bilskis and the Denver Nuggets chose the Loews to rest their weary heads. As a huge lifetime fan of NBA basketball, I was star struck, and eager to make the most of my good fortune. After we put Emma to bed, I snuck back down to the lobby and mulled around until I noticed players heading to the elevator. I then wedged myself into the elevator with the NBA players. Once inside, I’d start with the questions: “You guys been following the Sixers’ progress at all? What do you think of Embiid?” and, “I’m in relatively good shape, so do you think I could train myself to dunk at this point in my life if I worked really hard?” I did this about four times before my wife called and asked me what the hell I was doing.
Emma had gone to bed without any issues, but she didn’t stay asleep long. When she awoke to find herself in a luxury hotel instead of her modest, unimpressive townhouse, she must’ve thought she’d been kidnapped. To this day, I’ve never heard Emma scream the way she did that night in the Loews Hotel. And she never stopped the whole time my wife and I took turns trying to console her. She didn’t stop when the bellhop came by to tell us there were complaints and ask if everything was okay, either. For his part, the bellhop seemed relieved when we opened the door and he saw we weren’t performing any human sacrifices.
The wailing got so bad we thought about going to the ER. Instead, we bundled up our 11-month-old daughter for the December night and headed out to pick up some Motrin at a 24-hour Rite Aid a few blocks away. While I was putting Emma’s coat on, I glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It read 1:48 a.m.
On the walk, I saw a man pooping next to a dumpster. When you’re pushing a stroller with your screaming baby through the streets of Philadelphia at 2 a.m. on a cold December night and you spot a man defecating on parking lot asphalt, it really makes you question your parenting decisions.
Eventually the Motrin worked its magic, and Emma managed to drift off for a few hours. Watching her sleep, I began to wonder if we were being dramatic about what had happened.
Then I remembered what I overheard the bellhop saying on the phone as I was pushing Emma’s stroller into the elevator and heading off to the Rite Aid: “I told you, I’ll deal with the loud music and weed smell coming from the players’ rooms in a minute,” the frazzled man barked. “But I had to deal with that baby first!”
*I’m only 46% sure he said “weed smell.” I’m 99% sure he said loud music, though.

The 5 Types of Toddlers Who Take Swimming Lessons With My Daughter

Here we are at the weekly swim lesson and I’m just grateful I can witness this from the comfort of the sidelines.

1 | The Wicked Little Witch of the West

Forget buckets of water. Let but a single finger or toe graze the surface and this shrieking banshee emits wails so excruciating that one might confuse back-floating with an appendectomy sans anesthesia. Did someone drain the pool and refill it with sulfuric acid? I knew “No!” was every toddler’s favorite word, but this is Texas Chainsaw Massacre-level screaming. With such an aversion to water, how do her parents – they’re the ones with flushed cheeks and thousand-yard stares – keep their little stoic hydrated? Bathe her? How do they coax her out of the house on rainy days? Somehow, they bring her back, week after week, and each time it’s like listening to a kitten being boiled in oil. Or, maybe, a flying monkey having its wings ripped off. Methinks it unlikely that such aqua-phobic anguish will end in happy swimming. I predict this kid will grow up and move to South Dakota (or Kansas, perhaps), work for a raisin factory or camel farm, and be triggered each time she drives past a Red Lobster.

2 | The Hyper Hypo

The opposite of the Wicked Little Witch, this Snork Princeling not only loves the water, he suffers mortal agony when separated from it. Indeed, left unattended at the edge of the pool, Aqua-Kid will attempt to reenact the end of the Battle of Saipan … from the Japanese perspective. When this human lemming is forced to sit still for so much as a nanosecond, his arms and legs spasm with frustration, splashing everywhere, including into my daughter’s face as she attempts to do “ears-in.” Part of me wants to nudge the little myoclonic right into the water, except he’d like that. I think I saw this on SNL years ago: It involved Nicole Kidman, Mike Myers in a helmet, and a set of monkey-bars. I pity the Hyper Hypo’s parents, having to deal 24/7 with this Darwin Award contender. Finally, I understand why child harnesses were invented.

3 | The Buoy

Cue the opening lines of “Comfortably Numb”. My daughter’s been in lessons with this turnip-in-a-Frozen-bathing-suit for two months and I’ve never heard her utter a sound. Forget Elsa and Anna, because “frozen” perfectly describes the blank grin fixed on her face no matter what she’s doing: arriving in her stroller, floating in the pool, submerged. Finally, an answer to the long-standing question of whether zombies can swim. Stick her in a tube for “play time” and watch her … do nothing. Toys float by. The instructor gives the tube a shove. The Hyper Hypo recreates the Fukushima tsunami right next to her head. The Buoy remains as apathetic and inert as the Dude from The Big Lebowski after a double-dose of Nyquil. When I look to see if her dad shares my concern … hey, look lively, Prince Valium! Friday night at their house must be like visiting a mausoleum.

4 | The Exxon Valdez

Bridge to Captain Hazelwood: drop your fifth of Popov and get up here, sir. We have a big problem. Contaminated fluid is being discharged into the water, and we’re leaving a visible trail behind us. There’s leakage from multiple openings in the hull, and I don’t even want to think about what may be going on belowdecks. Yes, a major environmental catastrophe is in the works, maties, yet somehow we arrived without Boogie Wipes, and apparently disobeyed the rule about double-diapering. Aye-aye, Cap’n, ignoring it does seem like the best course of action. Let’s keep looking at our iPhones just like the parents of this pint-sized Toxic Avenger. It’s not like there’s any risk of other toddlers gulping the water.

5 | The Changeling

Arriving for the class after my daughter’s, this Last Emperor copycat is accompanied by an entourage that would embarrass Michael Jackson ca. 1991. My daughter needs to get out of her wet bathing suit and diaper, but no dice. Hillary Clinton says it takes a village to raise a child; evidently it takes one to change him, too. My daughter and I stand waiting – she shivering in her towel, the water soaking my shirt, both of us growing crankier every second – while the Mongol Horde forms a human shield around the changing table. Clearly it was too much trouble for anyone in this flash mob to stick him in his bathing suit and swim diaper before leaving the house 12 minutes ago, but God forbid we catch even a fleeting glimpse of Simba the Lion King’s two-year-old butt. Have a great lesson, Little Lord Fauntleroy. It’s petty, but I hope he drinks the water.

Growing Up, You First Then Me

I raised you to be a compassionate, independent young man. Instead of celebrating your incredible victory (and mine) I remain steadfastly stuck in the past.

I am sitting on the front stoop, coffee cup in hand, daydreaming about a little cherry-cheeked boy. The one that used to race up the front lawn (world around him be damned) in order to wrap himself in a Mom hug.
He could not get to me – the center of his universe – fast enough.
Breathless over his best kindergarten day ever, he spilled the beans on his older sister misbehaving at recess. Then he handed me a crumpled and creased Mother’s Day picture with a giant heart and “I Love You” spelled with a perfect backwards “L”.
I now watch this same child – I mean man-child (15-year-old to be exact) – saunter past me with nary a glance. I detect a grunt however. I believe it’s in response to my same stupid and annoying question: “How was your day?”
Being ignored fuels the “feeling-challenged” response in me.
I work the crowd like a comedian firing jokes at a non-responsive audience.
“Did the coach say anything in practice today about the line-up for next week’s game?”
“Nope.”
“I like the new logo on your shirt.”
Nearly-imperceptible nod.
We do our Mother-Son dance, this new daily ritual. I talk. You balk. I show interest. You show disdain. I cry when you’re not looking. I think I am in some kind of mourning as if I have lost you. Yet you stand here before me so that makes little sense.
Then again it makes all the sense in the world.
I am clinging obsessively to a past when you cuddled and snuggled and gave me raspberry kisses and memorized “Good Night Moon”; when you climbed into our bed at the first crack of thunder and had me perform nightly bogey man checks. The Tooth Fairy and I had a fabulous relationship. I miss her too! And those Crayola drawings made with those little hands – the ones aging in folders I still cannot part with. Poor Santa was dissed over seven years ago!
It seems an injustice.
I raised you to be a proud and compassionate and independent young man. That is exactly who you are becoming. Instead of celebrating your incredible victory (and mine) I remain steadfastly stuck in the past.
I would appreciate if you would bear with me. When you become a Dad I think you’ll understand.
I am struggling to separate and allow you to test your wings. I am afraid I already know that you can fly. I am scared to death that you will fly far away, and never want to nest again. I guess I want you to stay on the ground for a little while longer. I know it’s selfish to ask you to oblige my mom angst. I have laid out my emotional dilemma. It seems to be of epic proportions.
Perhaps I need counseling. Someone to talk me through raising a teenager.
Wait….
Did you roll your eyes at me just now? Mind if I count that as interaction between us? I mean in order to roll your eyes you must have been listening and that counts for something, right? Your eye roll was accompanied by some mumbled words. We are making progress!
You rummage through the snack drawer.
My mom instinct kicks in. I want to offer you a juice box and some fruit roll ups like the olden days. I leave you to scavenge.
I am left behind in your wake of Oreos and Doritos.
Remind me one more time: When did you stop checking under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy’s change? Why wasn’t I notified?
Our paths cross again in the evening. I remind you it’s time for electronics to be turned off for the night. “Please say goodnight to your friends,” I say. I am still the parent around here and there are rules and this is my house and you need to follow them! I didn’t say any of that although if I had I would have sounded strikingly similar to my mother (minus the electronics remark) who I swore I would never become. Surprise!
In my 3 a.m. wakefulness I decide that a different approach is necessary if we are both to survive your adolescence.

***

The wind whips around and makes the bleachers feel awfully cold today. Look at you out there in your new baseball jersey! My fingers are crossed and I say my silent prayer that you don’t get hurt. Everything else is icing on the cake.
A double!
I am Happy Dancing! Not that you can see of course. I recall the peer pressure lecture. Don’t worry. I will not embarrass you. It’s a silent dance. It takes place in my heart alone.
Game over and the team disbands. I head towards the car. I used to run on the field ten times per game with water and wipes and questions about having to pee. Hugs too! Loads of those.
Are you heading towards me?
Do I hug you?  No – peers might be watching. I pat you on the shoulder and say, “Good game bud!”
I’m way overthinking this.
Whoa, whoa, whoa!!! Did you just kiss me?
“Thanks for coming to my game, Mom. I’ll be home in a little while.”

***

When you were a little kid you ran up the lawn. That’s what you were meant to do. As a teenager you saunter up the front lawn with puffed out swagger. That’s what you are meant to do. It’s about growing up. I don’t have to like it all the time. I do have to accept that it will happen with or without my consent.
You know what? I may surprise you someday. I’ve decided to adopt a new mindset. The little boy I loved happily came home each day. The grumpy teenager I love begrudgingly so.
In the end all that matters is that you still come home and it’s here that I can make all the difference in the world.
This piece originally appeared on Her View From Home.

The Secret to Coaching Little Kids

Because the one thing they’ll remember is if they had fun.

I am in the throes of my third stint as baseball coach for the little town of Lincoln, Vermont. My third and youngest son is eight. I’ve coached all three of my kids through the little league system. My youngest is finally out of Tee-ball, but not quite ready for the kind of baseball where the kids pitch to other kids. We call this the Farm League, sort of the minors division of minors.

This is the age when the coaches pitch the ball to their own players. When you need to explain that the reason first base is called first base is because that is the first base you run to when you hit the ball. This is the age when, if a catch is made in the field, any catch, parents from both teams cheer and yell encouragement. The age when the kids come running off the field after the game and say, “Did we win?”

In other words, there is way more cute than there is skill going on out on the field, and I love it. This is the age when a coach who is not paying attention can really ruin the sport for a child. It pisses me off and so I’m doing something about it. This is my strongly worded letter to all little league coaches and parents of young ball players – don’t forget: baseball is supposed to be fun!

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There are plenty of great coaches out there who do a great job and volunteer their time and expertise to help train the next generation of players. This is not tirade against what is going right. I have seen enough ugliness in my teeny-tiny corner of the sports world, however, to know that there is a problem, and I want to try to address it.

My dad tells me of a time when he was growing up, in the 40s and 50s, when all the kids in the neighborhood would gather in the sandlot – no benches, no bleachers, no backstop, and no adults – and they would play baseball. Fast pitch hardball. If you were little, you watched, learned, chased foul balls, and waited for the time when one of the older kids said, “Get your mitt.” The fathers were all working and pretty much stayed out of it. There was a natural pecking order and you learned the game by just showing up, watching, and taking your lumps.

Those days are long gone and have been replaced by turf fields, grandstands and lighted sports complexes, scheduling committees, and select leagues. Rule books and umpires and parents yelling at coaches are the everyday features of the game. How has this happened?

Well, it’s because we love our kids. Those sandlot days were rough and tumble. Kids got hurt. They got bullied. The facilities were… well, there were no facilities. I don’t want to get all nostalgic for ye-olde-days-of-yore because I don’t think it was necessarily better. The biggest difference I see is that baseball isn’t something kids really do on their own anymore. It is an activity that is organized and run by adults. The problem with adults is that they forget what it was like to be a kid.

I played little league for one year when I was 11. The coaches I had were amazing. They made us all feel special, they gave us each nicknames – mine was Zimbob. They took us to pizza parties and the beach. I don’t remember anything about the baseball except the uniforms were yellow and the hats were maroon with a big C on them because we were sponsored by Crown Toyota. I remember getting stung by a bee out in center field, and I remember one time I got out by trying to stretch a single into a double.

The details are all lost in the haze of youth. More than anything, though, I remember that I had fun. The next year my mom “forgot” the day for registration and I missed out on playing. Years later I learned that she would rather have had a tooth pulled sans novocaine than to sit and watch 12-year-olds play baseball. I guess I can’t blame her, but my chances at making the major leagues were seriously inhibited by my non-participation in little league.

Which brings me to the next salient point for all you dads out there wanting to see your sons step up to the plate at Yankee Stadium. It’s great that you envision a bright future for your kid, but please understand that 99.99 percent of the kids out there are never going to play professionally and most are just trying to learn the game and have fun. You don’t have to make everyone around you, including your son, miserable by arguing that the umpire missed a call.

The stakes have gotten too high. There’s too much pressure and not enough fun. No wonder youth sports, especially baseball, are on the decline.

So here’s some advice from a guy who’s been coaching youth baseball for over ten years to make sure your kids have fun:

1 | Get out of the way

Let the coaches coach, let the umps ump, let the kids hit and run and catch and learn and make mistakes without you trying to control the situation from the stands. If you want to get out there and coach, or volunteer in some way, great, do it. But please, it’s not helpful or pleasant for anyone if you share your opinion loudly from the stands on what the people on the field are doing. It’s confusing for the kids when they see adults bringing their adult perspectives to bear on their activities.

2 | Emphasize learning

Baseball is a really complex sport. There are tons of weird rules and situational learning that needs to happen in order to even play a game. There are layers and layers of understanding that go into knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it well. If you emphasize winning over learning then you create a situation fraught with stress and aggressive competition. At some point, say the point when boys start seriously thinking about baseball as a job, that this may be appropriate, but at the early stages it does nothing but make the game a drag.

Let me share a story from my coaching guru, a man named Chuck, who was my eldest son’s first little league coach. Chuck never yelled. He was always calm and kind to every kid who ever put on a glove. He emphasized safety first and fun second, and everything else was somewhere down the list. One game after the kids ran in off the field and were getting ready to chant the ubiquitous “2-4-6-8…” cheer for the other team, my son asked him, “Hey coach, did we win?” and he said, “Well, you guys came in second.”

All the seven- and eight-year-old kids were psyched. “Yeah, second place! High five!” Second place was good enough for them, and it was off to the store for an ice cream and to enjoy the rest of the sunny spring day. Chuck knew that it was enough for them to have played and have fun at that age. In the grand scheme of their lives, the final outcome of that particular contest was less important than their participation.

Keeping the proper perspective is the key.

3 | The final score is not important

Skills. Youth baseball should be about learning skills. How to catch. How to throw. How to hit, run, slide, tag, steal, etc. The games give the skills context. The score is a device we use to create tension and drama – a little artificial significance to a moment – but let’s not lose sight of its actual meaning. Put into the larger context of life, these moments – even sports at the major league levels – are spectacles.

They are constructs. We agree on a context and a certain set of rules and we agree to wear certain colors and cheer for a “team.” These are all parts of an artificial container for the real goings-on. The human exchange and interaction that we experience with sport is unique and wonderful. Striving to condition one’s body and mind to be fit and strong is noble. Learning how to win and how to lose are important life skills. This is the meta text for youth sports.

Never forget that, first and foremost, we are humans in relationships with one another. The quality of those relationships should be what we strive to perfect, and there are not very many more powerful influences on a young person than that of a coach or a teacher. If you play your part right, you can make a huge impact on a child’s life, like my coaches did for me. Someday, those kids will grow up and perhaps coach their own kids, or your children’s children. It’s a big responsibility. It can also be a whole bunch of fun.