I’m not sure how many waves of fashion popularity fluorescence factually claims, but at the risk of aging myself, I’m pretty sure I’ve witnessed three of the four. In elementary school, my little brother was quite the proud porter of neon, head to toe. At the time, I certainly appreciated the form of fluorescence, but the function? I did not yet appreciate the true value of colors that rarely exist in nature.
But now, now we are a loud and proud Day-Glo family. A few years ago, Jake and Nate received some brightly phosphorescent active wear which fit the then current definition of pre-kinder cool. It didn’t take me long to realize how genius these little matching athleisure suits were. The boys could be hundreds of yards away across a beach, a field, an amusement park and I could spot them in an instant. No longer did I find myself welling with that bit of panic one feels when one hasn’t seen their child for a half hour within the Happy Hollow Redwood Lookout. I had a new plan… and it was working.
Patagonia is currently running a campaign that promotes letting children learn and take risks. I find this concept and the sentiment and history behind it fascinating to think about… that said I am not going to let my children balance along cliff ledges as they model $80 puffer jackets. I do however, think that the resurgence of fluorescence has allowed us to give the boys longer reigns to roam.
I’ve also noticed another interesting side-effect. Both Jake and Nate have really settled into school and filled their friendship coffers. I’ve been especially surprised how we seem to end up on school grounds and no matter where we are, their friends appear out of the woodwork, almost knocking them down with their enthusiasm. Meanwhile I don’t even see them coming. One moment we’re alone, and the next moment, Nate is sheepishly under a pile of loyal fans. And then it dawned on me. Just like me, these little compatriots can see us coming from miles away. Across a playground of primary colors, Jake and Nate are like two little buoys, bobbing along for their friends to literally grab hold of.
Two weekends ago we were at Nate’s soccer game– we’re the Yellow Jackets with our traditional black and gold striped uniforms. We were playing a team sporting the latest in neon yellow jerseys. James leans over to me conspiratorially and says, “They should call themselves the Highlighters.” Ha! We both laugh at his clever wit.
Tweet! The CoachRef blows his whistle for the throw-in and yells, “Highlighters’ ball.”
When I was five my mom tricked me into playing soccer. She told me my best friend Zoe was playing. Apparently Zoe’s mom told her I was playing… and a few weeks later we were the only two girls on a green team called Rational Moving.
Those first games were rough— I’m told I would just hide my face as the bunch ball swarm buzzed through me. I don’t remember not liking it. But I don’t remember liking it either. At some point things must have changed because I think I’ve been playing soccer ever since.
So of course I signed Jake up for soccer when he was only 18-months-old. He liked it. He dribbled around the house and ran around the field. He was expected to know colors and directions and body parts. He didn’t speak English.
Then when he was five I signed him up for a poorly organized AYSO league that combined practice and games into an hour on Saturdays. There was no team name. There were torrents of tears and meltdowns and all he cared about was the trophy. The following year I signed him up for soccer again in the PAL league. It had a weekly practice and a Saturday game with real refs and goals with goalies. I distinctly remember many episodes of a certain someone crying irrationally and yelling “strong words” at me to the tune of, “I HATE soccer! Why did you sign me up? I HATE ALL sports! I never want to play sports again for the rest of my life!” Yes, the athlete in me died a little.
But then my friend Kristen told me heartily, “Give it until Season 3. There’s something about when they get three seasons under their belt— it’ll change.”
I trusted her wisdom and prayed she would be right. I mean really, what else are we going to do with two high-energy, strong-willed boys for the next 11-13 years besides scheduling them chock-a-block into various sports to exhaust them so fully that they can’t even muster a strong word that begins with “h”?
And now it’s Season 3 for Jake on the Goalbreakers (Jake’s suggestion), and Season 2 for Nate on the Yellow Jackets (he was really gunning for the Fireball Phoenixes). When I cheer, “Go Green!” Jake corrects me, “It’s teal Mom. We’re teal.” Like, duh… Teal is infamously more menacing.
Jake is a changed human being. He wants to go to practice. He can’t wait for his games. He plays soccer voluntarily at recess. He asks us to take him down to the school on weekends so we can kick the ball around. Say whuuuut?
At his first game he scored his first two goals and saved two others. He’s transformed from the kid who never touched the ball, to the kid with a great block and a powerful kick. Fortunately, Nate’s been a proponent since Season 1. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do the Fred Flintstone gearing-up run that he used to do in defense as someone was coming toward him… I’m kicking myself for never capturing it on tape.
In any case, our Saturdays are so much fun now. We’ve transitioned from Irrational Immobility… to Rational Moving.
Earlier this week, Nate and I were on our way up the hill while Jake finished-up soccer practice. As we’re rounding the bend by the apple orchard, Nate asks from the backseat, “How come Grandma’s almost death?”
“What?!” I ask taken aback. “Grandma’s not almost death! Why would you say that?”
“That means her ears don’t work that well.”
“Oh.” Grandma’s gonna love that one…
This evening I spent a good twenty minutes entering the 30 school holidays and 12 minimum days into my calendar. After deciphering the standard cryptic school calendar… gray with dots are holidays, horizontal stripes are holidays, cross-hatches are holidays, I asked, “Jake, did they test your hearing at school last week?”
Apparently Jake’s almost death, too.
The first week we moved up to our house there was a heat wave… and boy was it hot. We were baking. Suffocating. Sweating amidst our moving boxes and our PODS. I admit, we were worried. Had we just moved somewhere with an unbearable climate? Would it be like this all summer? Would we have to move back to Los Osos indefinitely?
But then it cooled down and the weather was breathtakingly perfect and we figured it was just a hot spell. Though we now had undeniable proof that our architect’s advice against air conditioning was baloney. Hot, sticky, melted baloney. Plus there’s that thing called climate change. We all need air conditioning.
Months passed and there was only one bad weekend. We seem to have heat waves only when James’ siblings visit.
But then there was last week. Last week made the first week in our house feel like a brisk winter’s day. Last week was sweltering. It was so hot James warned us all, “Grannies die in this heat.”
This time the thermometers proved we weren’t just wimpy coastal transplants… on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo was the hottest place in the nation at 108 degrees. Hotter than Las Vegas. Hotter than Death Valley. It was Hot Lava.
And speaking of Hot Lava, it deeply saddens me to report that the hottest day on record was also the day we found poor little Hot Lava… sleeping with the fishes. He crawled down behind his favorite rocks and took his last little guppy breath.
Hot Lava lived a long, fulfilling life, reaching the wise old age of three. October third would have been his third birthday. I will miss him and all those heart-to-heart conversations we had during those early days in Los Osos.
It’s been a rough week, keep a close eye on your grannies… and your goldfish.
When my brother was little he was obsessed with wanting to learn karate. For the record, I was not in favor of him attaining any additional ways of physically attacking me… his cowboy boots were weapon enough. And after some interminable level of whining and begging, we dropped him off at his first karate class.
An hour or two later and he was ready to quit. “All we do is stretch. It’s too much stretching.” And so his belts remained elastic.
In the last few months, Jacob has also reached “karate age.” It appears to be a gene that activates at age 7. He’s been talking about wanting to take karate… I’m sure the submersion in Pokémon hasn’t helped. I admit I’ve been dragging my feet… do we really need additional instruction and encouragement in the art of punching and kicking one’s closest blood relations?
As luck would have it, our old swim club was called AVAC (pronounced A-vac) and our new swim club is called ABAC (pronounced A-back). ABAC is actually the sister club to La Madrona, my childhood swim club. All of this incestuous swim club context is simply to note that ABAC offers free Kempo classes twice a week.
For those of us new to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, Wikipedia describes Kempo as “a martial art characterized by the use of quick hand strikes in rapid succession taught by a red-bearded Sensei Gary.” I’ve never met a Sensei not named Gary.
Sensei Gary runs a very disciplined barre studio turned dojo. He is a firm believer in zero tolerance and effectively uses physical consequences as a means of mental control. He expects a respectful and convincing, “Jacob Sir!” with the proper level of martial arts oomph. His ability to corral 8 little boys via push-ups and mountain-climbers is impressive.
Now before the boys attended their first Kempo class, I did my best to set expectations… “Don’t be surprised if there is a lot of stretching. You probably won’t get to kick or hit anything. You may just do some exercises and stretching. Remember the story I told you about when Uncle Geoff took karate?”
“Yeah, yeah Mom. We still want to go.”
That was weeks ago. The boys came home all hopped-up on Kempo, having had the opportunity to “spar” under Sensei’s watchful tutelage.
I ask hopefully, “How much stretching did you do? Was there lots of stretching??”
“Uh, no. Not really any stretching.”
I was really counting on more stretching Sensei Gary.
I married a cowboy hat-wearing pick-up truck driver from the Central Valley. And James married an environmentally conscious tree-hugger from Santa Cruz. So of course this has led to many years of friendly ribbing, especially when it comes to Papa and me. Fortunately, Papa can dish it out, but he can also take it.
Now Jake and Nate have spent their entire lives hearing about the drought. They’ve barely experienced rain. They know about conserving water and native plants and Energy Stars. As coastal California kids, they’re well-versed in reusable bags and parking lots shaded by solar panels and the composting complexities of worm bins. They’ve never washed a car in the yard.
So of course they’ve heard me questioning why acres of sprinklers are running at high noon. They’ve seen me fishing tin cans out of the trash and transferring them to the recycling bin. And they’ve clearly picked-up on me cringing as Papa leaves the sink tap blasting at full capacity as he putters around the kitchen.
A few weeks ago, as we drove away from our camping trip at Lake Lopez, Nate gazed out across the immense dried-up body of water and asked in wonder, “Do you think that’s because of Papa?”
Oh I can’t wait to tell Papa about this one…
During the last weekend of August we ventured out to the campground at Lopez Lake for a two-day, fun-filled outdoor cousin adventure. “Lake” Lopez is a bit of a misnomer. The drought has reduced it down to a brush-filled canyon. Jake and Nate know quite a bit about droughts and water conservation and native plantings given we really haven’t had much rain in their entire lifetimes.
Needless to say, the first night in the campground was rough. We ended-up tent camping at Blue Jay, which is primarily for recreational vehicles. Friday night is party night. All of our neighbors had a rip-roaring good time till the wee hours, playing corn hole, proudly putting up their Trump signs, and flying their Confederate flags (OK, to be fair, flag, but really?)… Let’s not forget I have not been interested in going anywhere near tent camping since the Great Bear Debacle of two-thousand-and-ten.
Devon and Bryan came Saturday, after we’d spent several hours braving the frigid waterslides of Mustang Water Park. There were hours of tent wrestling and tag and throwing flammable dishware in the fire. An adventurous weekend of s’mores and potato chips and Scruffy. A few pitfalls, as little unsuspecting boys appear to be drawn to RV sewer hook-ups, but all and all, a great success.
One of the most memorable parts of Lopez Lake was the plentiful wildlife. We saw hundreds of dear, flocks of turkeys, woodpeckers and even a little family of raccoons— the mom and her five babies lined-up along a tree as though posing for a calendar.
On Saturday morning Nate and I were quietly enjoying our breakfast when a young buck came into our campsite. He took a look directly into the boys’ yellow tent and then proceeded to make his way over to our picnic table. He came closer and closer, until he was looking directly at Nate and me from the opposite side of the table. That’s when I decide this young buck is gettin’ a little too big for his britches and I give him a good, “Go’on, go’on!”
He scampers out of our site and then, I’m not making this up, sways his rear-end from side to side in a very deliberate, exaggerated way.
I turn to Nate and Nate turns to me and I say, “What just happened?”
And Nate says, giggling in disbelief, “I think he just shook his bum bum at us!”
“Just shook his bum bum at us,” I repeat. “That’s exactly what he just did.”
Bizarrely, I remember every pair of teachers I had in elementary school: Mrs. Kinney/Mrs. Cahill, Mr. McGuire/Mrs. Crowell, Ms. Mizell/Mrs. Jones, Mr. Shepherd/Mrs. C. and Mr. Post/Mrs. Crowell. Crazy right? I think Jake might have had that many teachers just in first grade. Of course I’m exaggerating… but it was pretty close.
He started off kindergarten on a high note— Maestra Patiño was a miracle worker. Thirty some odd kids and absolutely no help. The color chart was clearly more than just a nice little behavioral aid… it was do or die.
Then Jacob graduated to first grade and that’s where things got a little squirrely. It started off really well with Maestra Arroyo-Pérez. She was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and…
A long-term sub. Something happened and her masters program found out she was teaching full time and she was ripped from our loving grasp. We had an English-speaking substitute, which clearly negated the point of a Spanish-immersion program. We received vague and unsatisfactory letters about the “search around the world” to find a qualified teacher. There was hope that someone had been found— a Miss America. Miss America! The epitome of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed— likely winning the global pageant with her inspirational vision of teaching young Pokémon-obsessed youth the finer points of the subjunctive. Everyone waited in anticipation, especially the dads, hoping she’d live-up to her name.
But alas, Miss America never materialized…
Finally they pulled this poor lady out of retirement to get them through the year. Another long-term sub who started and then left on planned medical leave for six weeks. There was yet another sub, or maybe the principal filled-in? And then Maestra Gonzales came back.
She yelled a lot. The kids all said she was “mean.” She told me, conspiratorially, that she yells a lot because she thinks boys respect a loud voice. Her teaching style was, well, old school. The kids were pointed to and each would read a sentence aloud in succession. Public humiliation seemed to be a frequent classroom management tool.
At least she spoke Spanish?
Jake had it a bit rough. He was seated closest to her desk— I’m sure he earned it. In the end, I do think he won her over. This summer, we were leaving an Earthquakes game and amidst the huge crowd, Maestra Gonzales spotted Jacobo in his Trace standard-issue navy hooded sweatshirt. The look on her face was pure joy to see him.
This school year, second grade and kindergarten are off to a much smoother start. We’re feeling pretty confident that our new school’s talent pool is significantly deeper. Nate has Maestra Irion (pronounced Iron) for Spanish and Maestro Browning for English. And Jake has Maestro Guardado for English and a different teacher for Spanish.
Two days in and there was some kind of teacher mix-up happening for Jake. Fortunately, he’s been well-trained in experiencing a multitude of teachers. He came home from school and of course I pummeled him with questions about his first day.
“So, Maestro Guardado is your English teacher— who’s your Spanish teacher?”
“I don’t know her name.”
“Is it Piscatella? Mrs. Piscatella?”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Are you sure? I think that’s what Mr. Guardado said.”
He’s shaking his head perplexed, but still in the negative.
And then it dawns on me… Piscatella is the name of the dictatorial prison guard on Orange is the New Black. Woops.
But really, after all that… can you blame me?
Santa Barbara is one of California’s undeniable gems— perfect weather, irresistibly quaint architecture, hipster restaurants, shopping, beaches. And yet, we’ve got a dark and sordid history with this beautiful town.
It all started back during my first visit as a tween. One day I was traipsing around the woods with my best friend, Esther, and the following weekend I was miserably trapped in this quaint town with half my face covered in poison oak. Grumpy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Many years later, James and I planned a trip to Santa Barbara for his birthday— Jake was just 15 months old. All we really remember about that trip was a little, bald tyrant fussing and complaining while we tried to enjoy a beautiful dinner at the end of the pier. The following day we sat on a bench in a shaded paseo, debating our options for lunch as the tyrant continued his incessant malcontent. We gazed at the Panda Express, looming at the end of the passageway, and vividly lamented that we might never enjoy a lovely meal again. The only time I remember a smile on that kid’s face during the entire trip was our stop at the U-Pick Blueberry Patch, allowing him to pop $15 worth of blueberries into his mouth, and keeping him happy for 5 minutes of the remaining 4 hour drive home.
And then there was this weekend. We decided to visit the Santa Barbara Zoo, which was not much farther than our previous drive to San Francisco. The day was beautiful. The zoo was beautiful. But Nate? Nate was not so beautiful. Bouts of complaining and whining and refusing to walk. Hiding under foliage. Begging for piggy-back rides. He sat on the lawn and shouted, and I quote, “I’m never going home. I’m going to stay here for the rest of my life!”
Fine. Stay with your brother. Daddy and I are going to a beautiful lunch.
Childhood is full of many milestones that most of us have long forgotten: finger snapping, chopsticks, blowing a bubble, pumping a swing.
Last week Jacob tied his first bow— on his swim trunks of course. I haven’t bought any shoes that tie as all shoes that aren’t KEENS are immediately transformed into trash that vaguely resembles footwear. And KEENS appear to be fastened solely via mini bungee cords, so his unfamiliarity with laces is certainly my fault. But those slip-on bungee cords have saved us countless hours.
About two week ago, after a Friday at camp centered around “wheels” and all manner of bikes, skateboards, and scooters, Jake came home and immediately removed the training wheels from his bike. He wasn’t able to master his Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle bicycle that day, but he was back on it last weekend. And just like that, he was riding. A few loops around the yard and he declares, “Look Mom, I’m already a pro.”
Next up?: whistling.