2017 Geo Bee

FLASHBACK: 1 YEAR AGO. THE 2016 GEOGRAPHY BEE.

Alex was one of 12 kids in the Geo Bee last year. I thought he had a chance to win in. The boy is good at geography, regularly reads an Atlas for fun, traces maps and puts them up on his walls. And he studied some by taking geography quizzes online.

One by one, kids got eliminated until it was down to just two kids — one of them being Alex. At this point they go into the final round. His competition was a girl named Britney B, and Britney B was trouble. Britney had come in second the previous year and had apparently been preparing to win with incredible drive. Alex was against a deadly foe – and it was an epic battle.

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Only two competitors remain.

Alex and Britney went mono-e-mono for 17 rounds. It was 40 edge-of-your-seat minutes before Britney finally knocked Alex out by naming the country south of Libya (Chad). Britney deserved it and she won.

Alex came off the stage. His face was all red and his expression was bizarre. That’s when I realized he was holding back tears. He was trying to make his way back to me and Shani, but his class mobbed him. Twenty-six fourth graders surrounded him, unsure of what to do. They muttered “good job, Alex” and other nice stuff. They were all a bit somber.

But one kid knew exactly what to do. Max L, and autistic boy in Alex’s class, burst through the crowd and sacked Alex with a bear hug. He literally lifted Alex off the ground.

Max L’s hug had the effect of turning on a magnet surrounded by iron filings. Instantly the entire class, all 26 of them, clicked together into a group hug with Alex at the center.

That is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

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Love from the 4th grade.
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Hug from Shani. Note Alex’s red ear.

NOW…imagine a super villain from a movie. Lex Luthor defeated. Sauron vanquished. The villain slinks back to their lair with a heart set on revenge. The villain plots, rebuilds, smolders, grows stronger…

In this movie, the super villain is Alex.

He would email me worksheets and blank maps to print at work. He spent his birthday money on geography quiz books. He downloaded geography trivia apps. He found learning modules online. He drove me, Jack, and Shani nuts making us quiz him on the rivers of Asia and the capitols of Africa.

FADE OUT OF TRAINING MONTAGE.

RESOLVE TO: GYMNASIUM, PRESENT DAY. KIDS AND PARENTS FILL THE SPACE. TWELVE CHILDREN ARE LINED UP ALONG A TABLE ON STAGE. IT IS THE 2017 GEOGRAPHY BEE. ALEX NUCKOLS IS AMONG THE 12 KIDS.

CUT TO AUDIENCE. MIKE NUCKOLS WATCHES WITHOUT TALKING TO ANYONE. THERE ARE VISIBLE SWEAT STAINS AROUND BOTH ARMPITS.

Look, I’m not gonna spend too much time talking about myself, but if you know me and think I’m a nice guy, you are mistaken. I am in that audience and I am sizing up each of the other 11 kids with nothing but malice in my heart.

“Shani — who is that kid? Is he in accelerated math? No? Good. Very good.”

I’m also checking out parents. I know some of these competitive bastards and I wouldn’t put it past ’em to try and mouth the answers to their kid. Well, not on my watch, Tiger Mom!

Oh, I should also mention that among the competition is Alex’s best friend, Aidan. Actually, we’re gonna take a few minutes to talk about Aidan.

I will begin by saying: I love the boy. Aidan is articulate, polite, imaginative, truly kind, and a semi-professional pain in the ass.

When Aidan sleeps over, he and Alex bed down surrounded by stuffed animals and special blankets — and neither are the least bit self-conscious about it. We have a wooden hockey stick that is only allowed in the basement. Aidan brings it upstairs every time he comes over. Aidan will lead Alex to my tool bench, drape cords and power tools all over both of them, and they will play space cops for hours. I bought an expensive set of 2-way radios for canoe trips and I hid them in the basement so my kids wouldn’t play with them. Aidan found them in less than 20 minutes and he didn’t even know I had them.

In truth, I find Aidan and Alex’s friendship somewhat magical. They spend a lot of time laughing hysterically together and they’re a little bit like a comedy team.

However…at that moment, my favorite thing about Aidan was that I was pretty sure he wouldn’t beat Alex in the Geo Bee. I knew Aidan had only started studying once he qualified and I know his parents are super cool (which means no risk he’s being force-fed geography for weeks).

So the Geo Bee starts. Alex breezed through the first couple rounds, and I was pretty sure by that point that there were no ringers I had to worry about. All the kids were smart and pretty good at geography, but none of them seemed anywhere near Alex’s super villain level of knowledge.

One by one I watched them get knocked out, nodding with satisfaction.

And through all this, Aidan was hanging in there. He would crow out his answers loudly and he got every one right, except some obscure question about a country in Africa I’d never even heard of. Aidan obviously didn’t know, so he joyfully called out: ITALY!

But I’ll be damned if the two finalists weren’t Alex and Aidan.

Three questions. Whoever does better takes the crown.

Question 1: The newly-established Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is off the coast of which US state?

No brainer, Hawaii. Alex would definitely get that. But when they called on him…

“California.”

And my heart sunk. Crumbled. I pictured myself congratulating Aidan and pretending to mean it. Then Aidan (bless his heart) called out his answer:

“California.”

And the boy was suddenly welcome in my home again.

Question 2: The endangered snow leopard can be found in this Asian country?

Both boys said Russia and got that wrong too.

Question 3: This country, north of Nicaragua, is home to the Patuca River?

Alex held up his answer and I could tell he knew it was right:

“Honduras.”

Aidan’s answer?

“ITALY!”

Let’s go to the video…

Here is a photo of the still best friends…

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And finally, here is a shot of the well-deserving, 2017 Geo Bee Champion:

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Why Trump will Lose

(I’m going to save my f-bomb for the end on this one [see apology here].)

Last night I played poker with a group of educated, white, suburban men (mostly republicans) and they are universally voting for Hillary. It wasn’t even a topic of debate. So that made me feel pretty good.

But here’s what really made me start to feel good yesterday…

Actually…stay with me. We’re going to have to cover a few different topics on this one. We’re going for a ride.

Topic #1: My marriage

Shani and I have this…agreement. She handles all the worrying. She worries at me and I tell her: “ahh, it’ll be fine.” However, this agreement only works because I don’t worry about anything. Which is why this election is so messed up. Shani worries at me, expecting reassurance, and I can’t do it. I’m barely holding myself out of the pit of gloom and doom. I can’t add the weight of her worry on top of mine and I certainly don’t have leverage to pull her up.

It’s a mess.

Topic #2: W.B. Yeats

Yeats wrote a bunch of cool poems about the end of the world. He believed that every 2000 years mankind destroys itself in a catastrophic bloodbath. In fact, Yeats described the birth of Christ (year 0) as the last one to occur.

In other words, Yeats would say we’re about due to destroy ourselves. He described that event in a poem called The Second Coming that my friend Ed Gallagher recently posted on Facebook. The poem describes that destruction as a time when “the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”

That line has haunted me every time I see the euphoric glory of people at Trump rallies (Jew-S-A! Jew-S-A!). While at the same time the John McCains and Paul Ryans are MIA. The church leaders are silent.

Topic #3: American Democracy

Here’s how our democracy works:

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100% of Americans bitch about politics and the issues. It’s our fundamental, God-given, Constitutionally-created right in America to express disgust at politicians and the government. ALL Americans exercise this right.

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54% of Americans actually take the time and effort to vote for President.

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36% of Americans actually take the time and effort to vote in elections without a President being decided.

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Then there are the people who actually run the country. That’s about 1%.

The direction of our government is not a product of the general population. Yes, everyone has opinions, but that’s pretty much where it ends. It’s really just a handful of people who actively participate in the creation of policy.

You know these people. They’re the ones who have looked into the details of the laws being passed in your area. They go to those awful, tedious town meetings. They run for school board. They’re the ones organizing events at your school and getting everyone else to help out.

This 1% of people have enormous and far-reaching impact while the rest of us sit on our asses and bitch.

Want to know how I learned this? My wife taught me. Hang on, I’ll show you.

7 years ago, Shani was really worked up about nutrition in our elementary school. She was bitching about it and so were lots of people.

Then one night I came home to find 6 moms around my dining room table. In her jittery, friendly, adorable way, Shani was leading a meeting on what to do about nutrition.

Next thing I knew I was at the school for a “work weekend” with dozens of volunteers building this incredible garden. Those moms had gotten the lumber and plants donated. They organized rotations for watering and weeding. It was amazing.

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Every grade incorporated the garden into their science curriculum and had classes outside. The school started having “salad day” every month. This all happened in less than a year and it all continues to this day.

2 years ago, Shani really started getting more and more upset by all the shootings. Like a lot of people, she was bitching about the NRA and the need for better gun control…but Shani doesn’t just bitch about stuff. That’s not how a one-percenter rolls.

She got involved in a group called Moms Demand Action. She went to meetings. She started making calls to organize volunteers. She went to a march in Brooklyn. She’s organized events in our town.

And I’ve watched Shani and a small group of other one-percenter moms achieve remarkable things. They got Kroger’s (big grocery chain in the south) to officially prohibit guns in their store. They’ve affected legislation in states and towns across the country. They’ve been labelled “the NRA’s worst nightmare” in the press. Democrats in Congress (who for years wouldn’t even say the words “gun control” out loud) staged a sit in. In the 3rd presidential debate, Hillary Clinton spoke their “sensible gun control” talking points word-for-word.

One percent. That’s who gets things done. Which brings me to my overall point and hopefully brings these three topics together….

Conclusion

When it comes to this election, my wife is doing more than just worrying. Oh, she’s been bitching about Trump…but then after the “grab ’em by the pussy” video came out, Trump put out a snarky little tweet. And that did it.

Shani’s been making calls for the campaign for weeks — recruiting volunteers, organizing voters, getting shit done. She’s been out canvassing on weekends, going door-to-door and in her jittery, friendly, adorable was making the case for Hillary Clinton and making sure Trump doesn’t get anywhere near the White House. In fact, Shani is literally canvassing in the Philly suburbs as I write this.

Yes, I’m afraid to inform you, Mr. Trump – you human shitstain, you asslick, you fecal mass — the best do not lack conviction in this election. The destruction of the world will have to come another time. You will lose, you will go back to your chintzy tower, and you will become irrelevant. My wife is making sure of it — and as I think of that it melts the dread away for me.

In Summary

I know that was a lot to take in, so let me wrap all this up for your little twitterbrain…

@realDonaldTrump: You pissed off my wife, which means that

YOU

ARE

FUCKED.

Drinking or Streaking

[Note: more election blathergush from me. Read the previous post for disclaimers and apologies.]

The podcasts were grim this morning on my way to work and I had to shut them off. Nate Silver was explaining the mathematical errors that the Clinton team had made in their ad buys. Couldn’t take it.

Anyhow…here’s how the next 4 days look for me:

  • Friday (today): Alex and I have tickets to go see Doctor Strange and then I’m playing poker with friends in town.
  • Saturday: Long bike ride, soccer game, small dinner party with some people that I genuinely like
  • Sunday: Canvasing in Philly
  • Monday: Going to a campaign event with Hillary, Bill, Barack, and Michelle. Shani’s so active in the Moms Demand Action group that we’ll get up in front. So awesome.
  • Tuesday: Election day. Maybe calling in sick so I can canvas. That night I will either drink myself into a puddle or streak the neighborhood howling with joy.

That’s a great couple of days lined up, right? I should be bouncing off the walls excited — but I’m not. I’m just locked up with the dread-lizard crawling around in my gut.

I woke up at 4:30 this morning and got up to surf the news. How mishandled emails is a bigger story than raping a minor is a source of such bafflement to me that I am literally speechless. How on Earth are there teams of reporters madly reviewing her emails and calling out any possible detail as news, and yet NO ONE seems to be spending any resources investigating AN ACTUAL RAPE CASE THAT IS GOING TO COURT IN A MONTH! HAS EVERYONE LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS!?!

Minga.

And by the way, while I’m ranting, let me make a seemingly incongruous point: I’m pretty damn sure Hillary is going to win. It may not seem that way, but I do believe that. Her polls are better. Her ground game is remarkable. And on some level I still think when it comes down to it, the majority of America won’t be able to overlook how intensely and dangerously unfit Trump is to be our president.

With every debate, people saw them side-by-side and suddenly everyone went: “Wow – this isn’t even close.” I’m hoping that  reality hits when people actually go to vote. They’ll go: “You know, this is actually pretty serious.”

I’m hoping.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Lessons for Leah and Dan

 

Shani’s cousin, Leah, and her husband, Dan, just had a baby. Hannah. Leah is universally adored by the NJ Nuckols and she is one of the most important people in Shani’s life. A few years ago, I wrote about Leah and Dan’s Jewish Hippie Wedding.

Well, it is with great love that I send this post. It is a list of some of the things we learned when Jack and Alex were newborns.

I learned about “The Aligator Effect.”

If you were in your living room, looked over, and saw an alligator sitting there – you’d freak out, right? “Holy shit! What’s a alligator doing in my living room?!”

After Jack was born, every couple of hours I’d look over and there was a baby sitting there.

“Holy shit! What’s that baby doing there? Whose baby is this?!?”

It’s nuts. It’s hard to believe it’s real. It’s the Alligator Effect.

I learned that breastfeeding is a bitch.

We had no clue. I thought you just stick a kid on there and they nurse. Well it’s not like that at all. We were struggling to get it working and we finally broke down and called in a “lactation consultant.” An hour later, this hippie-dippie lady shows up at our apartment and tells us we’ll be working in the bedroom. So the 3 of us go in there.

“Now, Daddy, I’m going to ask you sit there at the foot of the bed. Mommy, you go there and hold Baby with you. That’s right.”

Then this creepy hippie climbs right into the bed with us.

“Now, usually before we start, Mommy needs to have a good cry.”

This lady was nuts! I rolled the hell out of my eyes and started to shoot Shani a look of disdain – but then I notice: Shani is bawling! What the hell?

But in all seriousness, the hippie dippie lady was a huge help and a great call to bring her in. Totally got us in good shape.

Oh – sidenote about breastfeeding for Dad – don’t try out the breast pump. You will be tempted.

I tried it once when Shani was in the shower. She was always complaining about how it hurt, so I figured I’d see if it was really all that bad. I stuck the plastic cone over my nipple and flipped the switch.

Whirrr-whirrr-whirrrrrr

It was like a badger was locked onto my chest. This contraption had me in its vile clutches and was distorting my nipple to unthinkable proportions. I screamed in agony.

“Get it off! Get it off!”

I tumbled off the bed, wildly flapping my arms in panic trying to flip the switch to off.

Bad call.

I learned to get sleep any way you can.

I work in healthcare advertising. In fact, I worked at the agencies that coined the terms “GERD” and “erectile dysfunction.” But no one has ever come up with a better name for a medical condition that SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

With Jack I lived in mortal terror. Nothing was allowed in the crib that could smother him. And he had to be on his back. Whenever I got him to sleep in my arms, I’d carefully lay him down in the crib on his back.

And he’d wake up. Every time. But that’s what I had to do to keep the SIDS from getting him.

With Alex, we were way smarter. We were getting sleep any way we could. The boy would fall asleep on my chest and I’d build a throne of pillows to support me. I’d sleep sitting up with the boy right on me. That’s how we both slept for the first 6 weeks of his life.

Much better.

I learned you’ve gotta forgive each other quick.

You’re stressed out and so sleep deprived and at 3:45 AM when the baby wakes up you lash out.

“Goddammit! You did it wrong and now the baby’s awake!”

Making up from a fight for Shani and I used to be a long process. We’d talk it out and apologize and make concessions and agree to be friends again.

But with a baby, you don’t have time for all that crap. Then next morning, after we’d been unreasonable assholes to each other, we’d basically go:

“Hey, last night…”

“It’s fine. I get it.”

“Good. Thanks. Sorry.”

Not enough energy to hold a grudge, I guess.

I learned that Jack would stop crying if I went down the hall doing deep knee bends.

I learned how to avoid getting peed on.

I learned how awful and ragged that first three months can be from Jack.

I learned how to cherish those awful 3 months from Alex.

Maybe, above all, I learned that I could do it. And I have to believe that you guys will hit moments of hellish despair when you think there’s no way you can handle this. But you can and you will.

It is the most profound change you will ever go through. It is bigger that moving out of your parents’ house, bigger than leaving college, bigger than getting married. You are no longer Leah and Dan. Not anymore. First and foremost, you’re Hannah’s mom and dad. Your identity is fundamentally changed.

So it is with a heart full of love that I share this with the two of you. Welcome to parenthood. It has inflated my life with a dimension of joy I never imagined possible. I wish all of that and more for you and your newly-formed family.

A Few Updates that Only Relatives Will Care About

Here we go…

  1. Our local little league had an essay contest, asking kids to describe: “How baseball has made you a better person.” The winner…Jack Nuckols. I will include his essay at the end. There was supposed to be an article in the paper, which I was going to post, but I guess it’s not getting in.
  2. Jack wrote our local paper and pitched the idea of writing an article about “The Future Phillies.” The local paper was in, so Jack wrote the Phillies – and we didn’t screw around. Jack wrote to 10 different people in the organization. The result? Next week Jack is going to interview backup catcher, Cameron Rupp. We’ve been working on research and questions. I will keep you posted as this happens. Very exciting.
  3. Alex also wrote the local paper and pitched an idea for rating top hikes in the area. The paper expressed interest here, so there will also be a lot of hiking over the course of this summer.

I think that’s it. Here is Jack’s essay. I swear to GOD, he wrote it. My contribution was to help him cut it down from 6 pages.

There is no “I” in team

By Jack Nuckols

In my mind, baseball is the best game ever. It is our national pastime, so Haddonfield, as a town in America, loves this sport. We love it so much that we have successfully run a little league for over 60 years. Baseball isn’t just a hobby, it teaches you lessons. One lesson we all see is that it takes a team to win.

No season taught me more about team than my 2014 Fall Ball season. All of our attention was on one thing: The Dawg Eat Dawg Tournament. It was the 2nd round and we were playing the best team in the league.

It started out terrible. By the end of the 3rd inning it was 14-2 and they were winning. We had our heads in our hands; some people were crying. But Coach wouldn’t give up. Now of all the things that Coach Bonawitz does, the most important things he teaches us is: Attitude and Effort. We had totally forgotten that – that’s when he reminded us. All that it took was a momentum shift. In the bottom of the 5th we scored 6 runs; it was 9-14. In the next half inning we shut down the other team. Now we had to score 5 runs. By the time I got up it was 11-14. I went and told myself that I wasn’t going to be the 2nd out.

The first pitch, I swung and missed. That was a bad mistake. I was in a hole and I had just swung at a ball. In my mind I told myself to wait on the next pitch. I needed a ball badly. It was a risk, though, and after that pitch I knew it was a big mistake. I was down in the count 0-2. I knew what was a stake here: the game and the season. My only instinct was to swing at everything.

I know one rule every coach says: protect the plate. That was what was on my mind. I didn’t care if it was 50 feet outside; I was making contact. The next pitch: Dink. Dink. Dink. I fouled the ball everywhere except for Hawaii. Dink. Another foul. Dink. Dink. Two more. Dink. Every single pitch was fouled off. The pitcher, who just 7 pitches ago was on top of the world, was now extremely frustrated. The next pitch he threw, I lined for a single and a run scored. It was 12-14 and I was happy that I wasn’t the goat. But I knew that this was a team sport and we wanted to win. A few batters later there were 2 outs and it was 13-14. I was on 3rd and there was a runner on 2nd. The first pitch, I heard a crack. The ball lined through the gap. I ran as if my life depended on it. I stopped and turned and a runner was rounding third. The only thing I could say, or yell for that matter, was: RUN! He scored and we won the game. I ran to the mob of people in front of me. As I jumped, I told myself I was jumping into one of baseball’s best examples of why “there is no I in team.”

Oh wait…you’re still here? Well then check out Alex doing a reverse on the diving board. Scares the crap out of me.

Five Dives

Saturday at lunch, I asked Alex if he was excited about his dive meet the next morning. He got a little evasive.

“Kind of.”

“Kind of? Why?”

“I’ve been having trouble with my front flip. I keep over-rotating.”

And he sounded genuinely sad about it. Please note that the front flip is Alex’s signature dive. He is the master of the front flip; it’s historically where he gets his highest scores.

“Then let’s go to the pool right after lunch. You can practice your dives.”

He perked right up. “Yeah – I’ll do front flip, one-and-a-half, front flip, one-and-a-half and do them each about a million times.” And off we went to the pool along with Alex’s Pop-Pop. The boy got to the diving board, tried his flip…he was right. He was over-rotating.

Here’s the thing. The next day Alex was in a dive meet, but he wasn’t competing against the other divers. He was in a class of his own trying to qualify for the Junior Olympics (JO). This means where the other divers were doing 3 dives, Alex would be doing 5. Herein came the problem.

Alex had recently learned to do a one-and-a-half. This is where he does a complete flip, then keeps rotating another 180 degrees until he goes into the water in a dive. This had screwed up everything. The front flip and the one-and-a-half had blended together. He rotated too far on the flip and too little on the one-and-a-half. Both dives were a mess.

“I don’t think I’m going to qualify,” he told me with he eyes down on his chest.

My Alex is not a creature of self-doubt, and to be honest this really concerned me. I was about to give him the old: “Of course you’ll qualify” in raucous Dad tone, but then I started doing the math. Alex had scored a 59 at the last meet and done 3 dives – plus he’d nailed all three. To qualify for JO he needed a score of 94. That meant he had to do even better.

“Look,” I told him, “if you don’t qualify, there’s another dive meet next weekend. You’ll have a whole week to practice for that.”

6AM my alarm went off. I made coffee and then went to wake up Alex.

“I’m so excited,” was the first thing he said, which I took to be a good sign. Maybe the self-doubt was gone.

We got him there for warm ups, but he was still over-rotating. He was getting closer to getting his front flip right, but he needed more time. However the damn line of kids warming up was just too long. I was pretty nervous for him.

Meet started, they got through the girls, then the boys, then Alex.

“Alex will be doing a front flip. Degree of difficulty: 1.4”

I hadn’t known the flip was first – we’d see real quick how things were going to go for our boy. Alex got up on the board, started his approached, in the air…

Perfect flip. Went in exactly right. I heard the gasp from his coach.

Scores:

6.5 6 6.5 6.5 7

I tried adding that up in my head, but I have deep doubts about my ability to accurately score a dive. Next up…

One-and-one-half. Degree of difficulty: 1.6. Up the boy went, whipped around and around and plunged into the pool in a dive.

Scores:

5 5 5.5 5.5 5.5

 

Back dive. Arced into the pool in a gorgeous descent.

Scores:

6 6 6.5 6.5 7

 

Inward. This one scares the shit out of me. The boy shot backwards and turned down to dive right into the water.

Scores:

5 5 4 5 5

 

Flip and half twist. This mother had a 1.7 degree of difficulty, which I knew was good for points. The higher the difficulty, the more points it’s worth. I found myself on my phone trying to calculate how close he was to the 94.5 he needed to qualify.

Alex got up, did his approach, into the air in a flip and twist.

Scores:

5 4.5 4.5 5 5.5

The final result:

If you missed it, his score was 130.85. And where my head is going…scholarship!

 

Is Swimming a Sport?

OK, so we all know Alex doesn’t like baseball. It’s sort of the running joke of this blog. (Although in my eyes it’s not a joke, it’s a serious character flaw that is my duty as a father to fix.)

But what Alex does like is swimming and diving. For the past 4 summers he’s been on the swim team and the dive team at our pool. Monday through Friday he spends an hour swimming and then an hour diving every morning. You should see the boy each July — he’s freakin’ ripped. And this means I spend plenty of time at swim meets and diving competitions. I invest lots of blog posts reporting on baseball games, so I figured I would talk about the swim and dive experience.

So swim meets..right. They’re awful.

There is no tension. There is no teamwork. There are no exciting plays. There is no variety. There is no action. I mean, yes, they are in motion and they’re working hard, but…

You know what it’s like? It’s like mid-term election night in the House. You’ve seen the polls, so 90% of the matchups you already know who’s going to win. Sure there are a few races where it’s close – those are exciting – but for the most part it’s a foregone conclusion. In fact, well before election night, you know which team will win control of the House.

Swim meets are the same. You’ve calculated who will win before it ever starts. We know we’ll win the 50 meter freestyle, boys 50 butterfly we’ll take 1st and 2nd, and Molly is in backstroke so that’s in the bag. We know we’re going to win going in. So with the exception of a few close races where it suddenly gets exciting for 30 seconds, a swim meet is just a 3 hour swim practice where I get up 3 or 4 times to yell for Alex.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching him race and I love that he’s getting great results. He’s doing awesome and he’s qualified for “Tri-County” in backstroke and butterfly — for which I am very proud.

But for my money, it’s not a sport. Well, maybe it’s a sport, but it’s certainly not a team sport. Yes there is a swim “team”, but there is no teamwork whatsoever. And after a swim meet there’s really nothing to report in a blog post.

As for dive meets, for me watching a dive meet is mostly about hoping for other kids to do poorly. At least until Alex comes up and then I’m so excited when he nails a dive I can’t stand it.

In truth, Alex dominates in diving. He’s won first place in every meet he’s participated in this year. He’s naturally agile, strong, and flexible. But on top of that he has a focused work ethic that most adults couldn’t match. We’ll go to the pool in the evening and he’ll spend hours practicing his dives on his own. Alex scores 6s and 7s where others usually get 4s and 5s.

This Sunday, since he’s already qualified for “Tri-County”, he is trying to qualify for “Junior Olympics”. This means he will execute 5 dives instead of the 3 everyone else will do.

And get this…my little 8-year-old will be doing:

  • Back dive
  • Front flip
  • Tuck dive (jump off board, tuck into ball, come out of ball into a dive)
  • One and a half (off board, do flip, continue rotating forward into a dive)
  • Flip and half twist (off board, do a flip, turn 180 degrees so you are facing the board, enter water)

Wild stuff. And in reality…that will be worth a post. Stay tuned for results.

photo

 

 

Return to the Woods

…I met Tom 6 years ago at a cub scout camping trip. Our boys were both 5.

The trip was hell. Boys were running like maniacs through the dark with flaming sticks. They kept going to the food table, opening sugar packets, drinking them, and flinging the wrappers into the fire. At one point a boy had a knife out and was spinning around with his eyes closed yelling “stay out of my blood circle!”.

It was the most stressful 18 hours of my life. I felt like a hockey goalie working for 8 straight games without pause. I returned home and Shani asked me: “Did you an Tom get to know each other?”

“No!” I screamed. “We were too busy protecting our kids from death. The other dads were all drinking beer out of red cups and doing nothing.”

…I met Jon when we both joined a group of guys for a running club. We were both well in the back and ran together. His son, also Jon, was on a soccer team with Jack the next year.

…I met Bob Actually, I don’t know where I met Bob. But his son, Max, and Jack have become really good friends. Max is a “caller” – which means he calls other kids to initiate getting together. Jack is also a “caller”, and has been deliriously happy to have a friend calling him. Not to mention, he and Max have this terrific bond of imagination and sports. I think they’re really good for each other.

And it is with these dads, their boys, and my two boys, that we headed to Lackawanna State Forest for a weekend of camping. Let me tell you about Lackawanna State Forest…

This park is entirely unremarkable. It has trees and birds and trails. But other than that it is altogether nondescript. It’s baffling how uninteresting I find this park. This is our second time coming here (see Rambler post); last time we went for a hike and turned around mostly because it was so boring.

But to these boys – boys of the suburbs…there are sticks, and salamanders under rocks, a creek, and open woods to run and run. There is a dirt road at the campsite to play wiffle ball and throw a football and pee. And while it may seem terrible to trade their screens and TVs for these boring woods, those boys were off to the races.

They got up at 5:45 on Saturday and did not stop going until they crashed at 10 pm. First they spent two hours planning for a kids vs dads wiffle ball game, including line ups, warm up runs, and chanting at various parts of the woods. Then we played the actual game. Then a hike. Then salamander catching and terrarium building. They played Hunger Games for 3 hours. They played lacrosse “Indian style” out in the thick wood. They built a fortress out of stacked sticks and piled stones. Their shins and forearms were slashed with dozens of scrapes and cuts and not one of them even noticed.

Take away the screens and not only do they not slow down, they speed up. Let their imagination go beyond the 9×6 inch dimensions of an iPad and they absolutely soar into the stratosphere.

As for the Dads I was with, here’s what worked.

1)    There was no need to be talking at all times.

I have officially sworn of small talk. Suburban dadhood for me is filled with parties where you talk about nothing. For over a year I have refused. I actually streaked a party two years ago just because it was so boring.

So to be able to sit around a campfire and have a solid 10 minutes of silence go by is much appreciated by me. We had some fun times talking, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t fill the blank spaces with jibber-jabber.

2)    Everyone pitched in without being asked

Each of us took a turn at dishes, but it wasn’t a turn. We just did them because they were there. Same went for firewood collecting, tents, garbage, and any number of camping chores that are actually the best part of camping in my opinion.

3)    Matching parenting styles

All 4 of us have similar boundaries for our kids. Which means I had full run to yell at their kids and they could yell at my kids. No one felt like an asshole or a wet blanket. To me it felt like I had three other trusted sets of eyes on my kids.

And as a final note, and for no logical reason to this post…I bring you the crapper.

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This was a glorious marvel of engineering. We dug a deep hole and framed up logs to suspend yourself over it. We even built a teepee structure over it and hung a tarp as a curtain for privacy. The fact that the tarp only shielded the view of the pooping person from the waist up, leaving naked legs and feet completely exposed, made this structure all the more glorious.

And that’s the end of the post. I’m ending on the crapper.

Well…I suppose I can give you a few photos. This is the fort they built:

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This is a shot of the boys. Note the strange crap they are carrying. Alex has a pot with a snake in it and has a knife around his waist. In truth, I absolutely love this shot.

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Majors Made

Mini-post. There really isn’t any heavy content to share here. I don’t have a story or any reflections. But as the title suggests: Jack made the majors. The tryouts were a big deal, but the news of making the majors was sort of a fizzle.

So that’s the update: Jack made the majors.

Other updates:

  • Alex’s lizard (Josh) has eaten 11 crickets
  • Jack’s basketball team won the championship
  • One of Jack’s best friends won the free-throw shooting contest (made 6 for 7)
  • Alex earned his orange belt
  • Shani and I have given up drinking in the house for Lent
  • Baseball season starts in 18 days

That’s all I’ve got.

Alex-Based Post: Comments Required

Alex asked me: “Why is your blog called NuckolBall?”

“Well, it’s our last name and also the name of a pitch in baseball. I combined them.” I was surprised he didn’t know that.

“Yeah,” he said sadly, “but why does the blog have to be about baseball?”

OH. Alex got the name. He got it completely. I was the one not getting it.

Here’s the deal: Alex doesn’t like baseball that much. Jack and I are nuts about it, and Alex is basically along for the ride. So he’s left out from the blog. Add to that the fact that I just had a guest post on a Yankee beat writer’s blog, and the post was entirely about me and Jack. I completely ignored the fact that Alex was at the game I described. (Note: in many cases, NuckolBall stories bend the shit out of the truth.)

So this post will be entirely about Alex. This post will be rambly, overly-long, and completely Alex-esque. Also, it means that you need to write a comment about how much you like Alex. Feel free to stop reading and do that now. In fact…

The remainder of the post will really only interest:

  • Alex
  • People who love to read about Alex
  • People who love lizards
  • Local people who need chores done

Two weekends ago we went to PetSmart near our house. Alex has saved up an astonishing $102, and we were inquiring about getting a lizard. A very helpful girl walked us through the cost of the cage, food, lizard, etc – and it was clear that we were looking at over $200.

“But what about a frog?” she said.

“Ooh!” said Alex.

So she walked us over to the frog tank. We added up what cage we needed, water treatment, crickets, meal worms – it was awesome. She even let Alex hold one of the frogs. Best off, we were looking at around $80 for everything. Perfect.

“Can we get it now?” Alex asked.

“No way. You’ve got karate in an hour and then basketball after that. We can come back this afternoon.”

Alex was on Cloud 9. He hopped around the basketball court like he hadn’t peed in 2 days, paying no attention to the game. His friend Aiden asked him to come over to play, but Alex barely answered him as he ran for the car. Back to PetSmart we went. New staff people had replaced the girl we spoke to that morning.

“Oh no, that tank isn’t nearly big enough. A frog needs at least a 10 gallon tank.” [Add $15 and now the tank is much harder for Alex to lift and clean himself.]

“Oh no, they eat about 8-10 crickets a day. Plus that cardboard cricket box won’t work for a frog because it’ll get wet.” [Add $3 a week to feed the frog plus $20 for the cricket keeper cage that Shani will not deal well with.]

“Let me just get the paperwork. This type of frog has to be registered in NJ. That’s a ten dollar fee.” [Registration?!?]

“You need gloves to hold it. Human skin is dangerous to the frog and the frog’s skin has an irritant that can create a rash.”

So here I am in this pet store with a kid sooo excited to get this frog and I’m learning:

  • It’s going to cost way more than expected to buy
  • It’s going to cost way more each week to feed the frog
  • I need to buy a “Cricket Keeper” cage to house live crickets, plus food for the crickets – in essence Alex is getting a pet frog AND pet crickets
  • There is no way Alex can possibly clean the cage on his own – which has to be done 2/week
  • Alex will not even be able to TOUCH his pet

After 30 minutes of heart-punching facts about frog ownership, I pull the plug.

“Alex, this isn’t going to work.”

“I’m getting a frog!”

“Alex, it’s not going to work. We’re not going to do this. I’m so sorry, bub.”

“Croaky?” (This was the name he had selected.)

Tears. And not a few tears – lot of tears. Alex proceeds to bawl. He knows I’m right and he is heartbroken. He will not be going home with a new pet. He will not be going to bed that night with his new frog sitting on his dresser.

We got home and watched the Justice League together, cuddling on the couch while Alex recovered. After 3 episodes he seemed to be all right. By that time I had received a text from my friend whose son has a lizard.

Go to Bill’s Wonderland of Pets. They know their stuff.

Fast forward to the next weekend. We find ourselves in a non-chain, locally-owned pet store. A gothy girl with tattoos and black eyeliner helps us out.

“I’d recommend a Max Land gecko.”

Turns out “Max Land” is an actual person who breeds geckos. Goth girl walked us through all the stuff we would need, and then took us over to the tank where she pulled out a gecko and showed Alex how to safely hold it. The thing was crawling all up and down the boy’s arms as he gently handled it.

“See, after you handle him a while they get comfortable. You’re really good with him,” goth-girl told Alex.

Total cost: $135. Which means Alex is short $40 – but he is not to be denied. The boy is saving up. Every day he asks me about doing extra chores. He’s carried wood for me. Done dishes. He cleaned two bathrooms for Shani. He is saving up.

Which leads back to YOU…if you’re local and you’re still reading. If you have a chore for a detail-oriented, diligent 8-year-old, Alex is your guy. I’m not talking about some bullshit thing you give him to do and hand over $10 because he’s cute. This isn’t about fund-raising. I’m talking about an honest-to-God chore that would be worth a few bucks to you. If you have some work, let me know and I’ll get my lizard-lover over to your place stat.