Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Standing with my Son's Weird Hair Choices

Poor Buddy has dealt with a lot of criticism of his fashion choices in his short life. Sometimes it's been because he's dressed appropriately for a dance class, but some dumb kids and an ignorant teacher don't think he should be taking dance. Sometimes it's been because he likes to try out non-traditional styles, like nail polish or wearing a skirt. One time it was because of me.

When Buddy was in pre-school he had long hair about half the time. Even when it wasn't "long" it was still often longer than other boys at his day care. When he was three and four years old he liked hair ties and barrettes. One of his favorite looks for a time was to do a top ponytail. He looked like a cross between a samurai and a 1980s valley girl. The first time he decided to wear this style to school I was torn between wanting to let him do it, and fearing for what the other kids would say to him. I thought about what to say as my wife drove me to my campus, before taking her and the kids to the base where she worked. As I was getting out of the car, I tried to prep him without telling him not to do it.

"Hey Bud, I think your hair looks great. But there's a chance some other kids won't get it, and they might say something mean. I just want you to be ready for that."

It was a total failure. I could see his face fall as I got out of the car. I knew I'd said the wrong thing. My wife called later to tell me that Buddy had taken the hair tie out as soon as they had started driving. He never wore a ponytail again. I had ruined it.

Luckily, I hadn't ruined him entirely. Over the rest of his pre-school years, he went through phases of wearing skirts off and on, wearing nail polish on all ten digits, and acquiring his own set of barrettes so that he could confidently say, "No. I am not wearing my sister's barrettes."

After entering kindergarten his clothing choices became more typical for a boy his age. He does sometimes lament that he can't wear skirts because he doesn't want to have to answer the questions. Since that day in the car, we have always let him do what he wants with his hair. There are times he has to remind me that he wants a haircut because I'm so comfortable with (possibly preferential to) his California boy surfer look when his hair gets long. This year he brought home a letter from school about possible lice exposure in the classroom. The letter suggested that parents check for lice daily for the next two weeks. Buddy wasn't having it. "Dad, can we just shave my head now so I don't have to do all that checking?"  Sure bud, whatever you want. A few days later I rocked a blonde mohawk in support of the Puerto Rican national baseball team's run to the World Baseball Classic championship game. Then I shaved my head to match Buddy. That was in March.

This week is the first week of summer vacation. The kids are home with me since we're all on academic schedules and we're still paying for our move. Camp Dad was the least expensive option and it gives me a chance to relive my SAHD days. We are all very excited. Yesterday I asked Buddy if he wanted a haircut. He asked for three stripes shaved on the top and sides. That was it. I did my best to not bat an eye, though I did pretend to not fully understand so that he'd explain it a few times and confirm that this is really what he wanted. I swallowed my instinctual "They're all going to laugh at you," and went ahead with it, doing my best to at least keep it even.

Later, we went to the playground and the results were predictable. It took about five minutes before a group of older kids (older enough that they should have known better) started in on him. He ran over to me in tears asking to leave. The adult who was in charge of these kids, who were part of some kind of camp at the attached community center, had them come over to apologize. That was good, but I could still hear other kids around a picnic table making comments to each other and looking over at us. I gave them my most stern, disappointed parent look and if you read about me being bullied at computer camp, you can guess that it had absolutely no effect.

As we walked off to a different park I probed Buddy about what he was thinking and feeling. We talked about why kids tease. We drew a comparison to his own behavior with his siblings, and how shutting people down just to feel powerful wasn't the way to live life. We talked about the difference between laughing with and laughing at and agreed that Lou's giggles when she saw him were the fun kind. I asked him if he wanted me to warn him when I thought he was going to make a decision that could result in him being teased. I told him the ponytail story and explained why I was hesitant to offer that kind of advice. He agreed that he didn't want me to offer that kind of warning.

I asked him what he wanted to do. To me the question was about what he wanted to do with his hair. Did he want to shave the rest and have it all evened out. He took the question in a direction I wasn't expecting.
"What do you want to do Buddy?"
"I want to be better about the teasing next time. I want to be able to just say that this is how I wanted it and then ignore them. I really just want to be me, and do the things I enjoy."
Yeah. That was a way better answer than if he'd answered the question I'd thought I'd asked. I was super proud of him in that moment. He has good teachers. He's finally at a school where he can come to that kind of insight. And I suppose we're not hurting as parents. I was inspired.

Later that night I decided that if he wanted to, we were going to back to that playground together and face those kids again. Together. I went into the bathroom and fired up the clippers.

I'm with you Buddy. Always.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

We Bereave: Why this Warriors Championship Carries Personal Meaning

The Warriors just won another NBA championship, but you may have already heard about that. If you follow me on social media, you know I'm a big Warriors fan. I'm standing in my kitchen this morning in an old Chris Mullin jersey. I'm a little sleepy, and a little hung over, and very happy.

I recently did a guest spot on a podcast with my brother, "Uncle Nacho." He's launching a new weekly sports podcast called, Nacho Average Sports Podcast. We recorded it in the kitchen of the house we grew up in, a house we now own because our mother passed away ten years ago. During the conversation we talked about this recent run of success by the Dubs, and thought back to the days when they were terrible, and we could actually get tickets.

Back in those days the crowd cheered more for the prospect of a free chalupa than for a chance to win a game. After all, what's one win in a 60 loss season? A chalupa, given away when the Warriors scored 100 points or more, was like money in your pocket. Those were the days when our next door neighbor would offer us his season tickets and we'd have to seriously consider whether it was worth the $20. We went to a few games a year, mostly losses, and just had a good time hanging out with each other. It was usually some combination of me, my brother, my step dad, and my friend Daniel.

Mom got sick ten years ago. Her cancer was already advanced, and progressed quickly. She died on April 7th, 2007. Ten days later the men of the family took in a welcome distraction, going to watch the Warriors take on the Mavericks in the last home game of the season. Dallas had already secured the best record in the league and the number one seed in the playoffs. The Warriors were fighting for a chance at the postseason, where if they made it they'd have to face these same Mavericks. That night was the last home game for noted Warriors albatross Adonal Foyle. Foyle had become a symbol of everything wrong with the Warriors of that era. He had a huge contract coupled with performances that got him glued to the bench. But at this last game, he took a moment to acknowledge the fans and he got a standing ovation. It's one of the great things about Warriors fans, and sports fandom in general. A guy we couldn't wait to see leave town, got a standing ovation.

If you follow sports at all you know that this was the We Believe team. Over the next couple weeks they became the first team in NBA history to go into the playoffs as the number eight seed, and defeat the top seed in a seven game series. It was sublime. It was incredible. It caused the otherwise composed Mavericks star, Dirk Nowitzki to hurl a garbage can at a wall, causing a hole that the Warriors never repaired. Instead, they left it as a tribute to what that team accomplished.

"Dirk Nowitzki created this hole in wall at Oracle Arena by throwing garbage can after playoff upset. pic.twitter.com/7q2Leh4Qbm
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) March 8, 2015"
That playoff run, which ended in the second round, did something else for our family, and for me. It helped us cope with losing our mother. It gave us something to do together for a couple hours other than grieve. It gave me an opportunity to pull out of my role as executor, and all the legal maneuvering that entails. I was flying back and forth from D.C. to take care of things and that playoff run helped keep me connected to my home town and community. It was the early, cumbersome, expensive, days of texting. But we fired texts back and forth. Friends called me at 1:00am my time, scream out "WAAAAARRRRIOOOOOORRRSSS!!!!!" and hang up, just to share the moment. That team helped us through that time.

Sports is family.

Look at the Warriors over the last three years. Steph Curry with his daughter on his lap throughout his 2015 championship press conferences. Draymond Green holding his sleeping infant as the confetti fell last night. Kevin Durant dancing with his mom on the floor, and then thanking her at his presser. Shaun Livingston talking about his daughter on the local postgame show. Steph's parents at every game.

I've written about how sports was the one thing I shared with my otherwise absent father. Sports is how I found a common interest with my step dad. Sports was how I found time to hang out with my little brother. Now, ten years after mom died there we were in the kitchen talking about sports, and the Warriors, and the 2007 team. Last night my kids got to stay up later than usual, and see their first championship. Last year I wrote about how watching the Warriors lose last year with my son helped make me a better sport. I've learned so much about sportsmanship just by having to think about how I act in front of my kids. Now I got a chance to think about how to celebrate in front of them. We talked about why KD was hugging his opponents. We talked about how once the game ends, you respect your opponents. We shared a moment of joy, and a chance to learn something about the world.

She drapes herself in Maryland 
Kevin Durant gave a shout out to his home area of Prince George's County, Maryland. It was big moment for my daughter, who spent the first five years of her life in PG, and has a deep and abiding love for Maryland. She's a big KD fan now. She insisted that we send this pic to KD on Twitter.

My mom never met these kids who are living in her house. She isn't here to see another generation sleeping in the room that once was mine, and later my brother's. We're here because she's gone. People sometimes say we're lucky to have inherited a house in Berkeley without really thinking through what that means. But here we are, and I think about her every day. I think about her as I cook in her kitchen and sleep each night in her room. I think of her as I watch Matt Barnes, the prodigal son and only current Warriors player from that 2007 We Believe team, win a championship a decade after the Warriors helped us through the worst month of my life.

I was there
People ask why we watch. People ask what sports fandom is about. How can we care so much about something we're not involved in? It's because fandom isn't about wins and losses. It's not about civic pride, though it can be at times. Fandom is about connection. It's about getting on a crowded train and knowing you're at home with all the other fans. It's about welcoming visiting fans and talking about the game with them, showing them the best of our city. It's about having touchstones that help you mark the occasions in your life, or being able to say, "I was there."

It's 2017, Chris Mullin wore #17, that '07 game against Dallas was on the 17th. Smirk if you will, but that means something to me.

Sports is family.

UPDATE: I met Matt Barnes, and he signed my We Believe t-shirt. It was a cool moment.

Check out Uncle Nacho's podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/uncle-nacho/nacho-average-sportscast-ep-1