Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Marriage is a beach

Being married reminds me of swimming off the Oxford Ferry dock when we were little. It's easy to get nostalgic. And it's fun. Thankfully, after 13 years today, our marriage hasn't been banned like swimming off the ferry dock.

With a late June wedding, summer makes me think of our day in the sun, getting married on the Tred Avon River in the church I grew up in. But summer makes me think of Robin and our 17 years together, in general. She is a teacher and a good many of our trips and adventures have happened over the summer, when she is on vacation. We've covered some ground--Colorado, Maine, Florida, Cooperstown, N.Y. (pictured above), the Outer Banks--or we've been just as happy on our home rivers or Ocean City.

I know that summer is going to bring us time together, to do whatever. Marriage has done the same. So maybe marriage is summer vacation.

Maybe I've been mulling over too much Kierkegaard lately, with his fear and trembling over life's big decisions, but life can come unwrapped or unglued or just be generally chaotic at times. We'll keep the water metaphor rolling here, with life as water/river/ocean. Our response to the water, is to build a life--whether a dock, a living shoreline, bulkhead, beach. Something to buffer us, something to comfort, something to give us shape in the midst of chaos. Our jobs, our likes, our families are part of that. So maybe marriage is a beach.

For me, Robin and our marriage has been that constancy. You don't often see marriage billed as a buffer against existential dread, nor should you, as that sounds pretty fu**ing glum. But maybe you see what I am getting at. When you find someone to go through life with, through the tough times, through uncertainty, that's a rare and special thing.

But in 13 years it has rarely felt that way. It has felt more like the kind of beach you picture, non-metaphorically--it's been fun. Fun to the point where I know I would be missing out on life's most fun times were we not married. From concerts to boat rides, from parties for no reason to speaking slurred French at Schooners Llanding 17 years ago. When I string my best, most fun memories together, most of them have happened in the time Robin and I have been together.

Marriage makes me nostalgic in that way, enjoying the looking back at where we've been. But it also makes me hopeful. The looking ahead to where we might go. But beyond looking in either direction, it makes me enjoy the now. It makes me enjoy getting up in the morning and it makes me enjoy coming home after work.

I'm not sure what I think of marriage as an institution. It doesn't always work. Maybe it's flawed. Maybe people don't take it seriously enough. Maybe marriage shouldn't be so serious. For me, I know why marriages don't always work. Because not everyone finds Robin.

In the spirit of looking back, here are thoughts from our 12-year anniversary last year and on our 11-year anniversary the year before. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

On becoming a Nationals fan

"You'll be working right next door, you know you should think about becoming a Nationals fan. They could use you."

"Thanks, but I've always been an Orioles fan. I've got a team."

That was a conversation I had with my former boss at my going away party from the maritime museum where I worked. He was a DC lawyer who had been waiting for a team and then going to games since the former Montreal Expos came to Washington. I didn't see the appeal for me. I've always been a Baltimore guy, never a DC fan.

As has been documented here, I've built memories with my father going to Memorial Stadium. I can still name just about every Oriole that played in Baltimore from 1977 to 1997, and I studied up on the O's teams of the 1960s and early 1970s. Having said that, I've still been to more games at Memorial Stadium than I have at Camden Yards, which opened when I was 20. The O's left a sour taste in my mouth when they drove then manager Davey Johnson out of town. And Baltimore had re-emerged for me as a football city, with the Ravens as the team I followed most.

And then three baseball seasons ago, I started working in Washington, D.C. My work commute has me drive right in front of the Washington Nationals stadium every day. Our offices are right next door. One day a few seasons ago, a group of us took the afternoon off and went to a daytime Nationals game. And then another. And then another. I told myself it made sense to have a National League team to pull for, since they weren't in opposition to the Orioles. It's important for my own pride and honor to point out that the Nationals, at that time, were in worse shape than the O's. Mine was not the case of ditching a bad team for a good one.

My wife and I (mortal football enemies) went to a game together with friends. I started pointing out Nats players like Ryan Zimmerman and filling in some back stories. We got to where we would put the Nats on in the evenings in the summer. And I found what had been my childhood love of baseball, long dormant, waking up with a fervor. The Nats weren't winning right away, but they were exciting. I loved watching pitchers bat and the strategy that comes with when to pinch-hit.

I am a believer that with a sport like baseball, going to games gets you excited in a way that watching on TV cannot. There is something to being at a baseball game, sitting at Nationals Stadium that transported me back to Memorial Stadium. But the Nats were a team I found, or maybe that found me. A direction I was going. My father introduced me to baseball and to the Orioles. I inherited his love of the game. My father is also an accountant. Sometimes you have to go down the path, in life and in sports, that is right for you.

At the same time, two friends I have in DC, both raised Yankees fans, were going through something similar on their own. They both found, they had a hard time watching Yankees games, they would rather watch the Nats. One of them gave it some thought and put it this way:

"As Mike will attest, both of us will always have a warm place in our hearts for the hometown teams we were raised on, the O's & Yanks. This past weekend, I was sitting in Fells' Point, Baltimore wearing my Nats shirt in a sea of black & orange, trying to figure out exactly why I can't bring myself to watch a Yankees game in its entirety and I came up with this explanation: For many of us who had dads (or uncles in my case) who brought us to our 1st baseball game, the bond we formed w/our 1st team was something in the way of indoctrination. We looked up to our dads & wanted to be like them so rooting for a different team was practically unthinkable. As adults in a new city, loving the Nationals is no indoctrination - it is OUR CHOICE. There's something special about choosing to be swept up in civic pride on your own w/out anyone else's influence. The Yankees will always evoke fond memories & be in my heart forever but the Washington Nationals will always be MY TEAM."

I think that gets to it pretty directly. We recently took my dad to Nationals Stadium, for a Nats vs. O's game. I felt proud to show him the stadium and team I go to see, in the same way he must have felt proud to see me get swept up in the Orioles some 35 years ago.

But that's also where something remarkable to me comes in. Our daughters, ages ten and seven, each went to their first baseball games this year. I wasn't sure what to expect. Each of our girls can name every player on the Nationals roster. Our seven-year-old routinely asks about Chad Tracy or Roger Bernadina--the Goon Squad who come in off the bench--or if Sean Burnett, a relief pitcher, is going to pitch tonight. I never saw it coming. They both love Bryce Harper and Stephen Stasburg, yes, but the part of the game and player they get most excited about is when (now) closer Tyler Clippard comes into the game. I can get them to come in from outside by telling them Clippard is pitching. Our 10-year-old told me this week, "Some people think that baseball is boring to watch, but that's because they don't watch the Nationals."

I didn't see that coming. Their Natitude is off the charts. As we were driving to Florida to visit my wife's family a couple weeks ago, it was late and the Nats were playing the Red Sox. My wife was commentating the game from live updates on my phone, the girls cheering when the Nats scored.

Yesterday, Robin, Ava and I went with my father to Camden Yards to see the Nats play the O's. We had seen round one of the Battle of the Beltway series in Washington. There was a great turnout of O's fans in orange to go with the Nationals' sea of red. It was a great friendly rivalry, based on geography, in inter-league play. In Baltimore, it was similar. Full stadiums. Fans cheering for both teams. "Let's go Nats!" and "Let's go O's!" cheers trying to drown each other out.

I would not have imagined thinking of Camden Yards as an away game. The Orioles were the team that taught me about baseball, that taught me about being a fan. The Nationals are the team that found me when baseball wasn't a household word in our house, that picked us up and has swept up our family. Baseball is a sport for both the heart and the head. For us, the Nationals have both.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The first non-Robert

I'm the first non-Robert on the Oxford side of my family in three generations. My father and his father are both Roberts (incidentally, so was my Baltimore grandfather). With that kind of multi-generational gravity going, most of the older folks in Oxford still called me "Bobby," when I was little.

My father, no doubt, looked to avoid the confusion of another Robert. Or maybe it was to break the identity shackles Robert carried with it. It did make it as my middle name.

Besides the reigning first name, the other notable thing that didn't get passed directly to me is my father's love and aptitude for numbers. He's an accountant and has been treasurer of every organization he has belonged to. Words are my currency; we'll hope the math gene is just dormant and has been passed on to our girls.

In the interest of full disclosure, my dad also didn't pass along his hairline (or lack thereof), yet, which is something I'm okay with. But I'm not really thinking of the things not passed on this Father's Day morning.

Anna, our 10-year-old, and I have taken to playing catch, lacrosse style, in our front yard. She picked it up more quickly than I did. I had my dad come out front a few weeks ago to watch Anna play. It took me back to our back yard when I was nine or ten, two gold-shafted Warhawk lacrosse sticks, one with a red head, one with a yellow, trying to get the magic in that stick to work. It was only a couple years earlier we had been after the same goal with baseball mitts and ball.

Learning to play catch, ride a bike, how to fish. Becoming a swept-up baseball, football and Baltimore fan (the last of which has waned a bit in the baseball world, having worked next door to Nationals Stadium for the past three baseball seasons). Immersing myself in sports statistics and history because my dad seem to have it all memorized.

There are things, like those above, that a father can teach his children. There are other things, like the shape of my face, my eyes, the gait of my walk--for years when the two of us walk next to each other, our walks are almost indistinguishable--the sound of my laugh/voice, which were not taught, but undeniably paternal in my case.

Somewhere intertwined and above all this is something I hope I can pass on to our girls as well as my father passed on to me and my sister: how to live life. Those things like going after dreams, not being afraid to try things, not being afraid to fall, but when you do, being able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back at it; looking out for your family; appreciating your shared history/having a sense for your roots. I think these things are taught by example. These things emerge, are imparted by observation, discussion and the shape of a life lived as the backdrop.

The thing I learned most quickly as a father/parent, is that parents don't know shit. At least, that's how I felt, still sometimes feel. There were no handbooks, no answer sheets. I'm mentally scratching my head to answer some of the questions the girls throw at me. But as a child, and through growing up, I have always felt (and still frequently do), that my father (and mother) knew/knows things I didn't/don't. There was a certainty, an authority in his answers that seemed beyond question. Gravitas. I have always wondered where the hell that dad gravitas comes from.

On this Father's Day, looking back at myself at Anna and Ava's ages and the things my dad was able to give, impart, be for us, I try to live up to his example, try to be that kind of father for our girls. Though they won't be fathers, maybe it will help them come up with their own ideas of what one is/does. Dad has been that for me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cast off the sea monkeys

It may that pool and ocean water have leaked into my brain. That combination of salt and chlorine, which, when you add Corona and multiply by no set schedule after driving 14 hours, sets your mind on simmer. Also known as vacation mode.

It may be that my brain is just slightly overfilled with thoughts. Like the legs of a girl maybe equal parts surfer and redneck, which were a little too long for her frame but all the more striking for their gangliness.

Leaked water, overfull thoughts, legs too long, whatever, it adds up to unsettled mind. It won't quite relax with the body. It has a different agenda, without the means or cooperation to get there.

Still our lives resemble dreams... realms of fantastic desire and possibility, like the kingdom of sea monkeys promised in the back pages of comic books of my childhood. -Campbell McGrath

Maybe Campbell McGrath is right and our dreams are sea monkeys, never as cool or promising or fully realized as we want them to be, believed them to be when we saw them advertised in the back of comic books.

Forty years is beyond the midpoint for dreams. There is still time to realize them, but elapsed time, energy and youth are all factors.

Our trip south is a beginning to summer. It is about family. It's about taking our girls to Disney World. Disney electrifies dreams; it blasts them from a star-loaded bazooka. It takes life's inconveniences, like waiting in line, and puts a princess or a pot of gold or wild ride at the end. We would do well to keep Disney in our minds, to hold on to and reach for our dreams.

At home I'm tired. I haven't been working out since my back spasm-induced ambulance ride. The routine isn't right. It's not fully me. The heart and soul is missing from the motions.

Your mojo can turn up in strange places. Mine gets cranking watching Washington Nationals games. Swimming with the girls or riding through the Haunted Mansion with Anna. Watching Ava rally through the Disney World heat or running a couple miles, doing push-ups and talking about life with Robin. Reading McGrath, Roger Angell, Tracy Smith and John Brandon.

Being on Florida vacation time. Looking to breath deep and fill my lungs for a return. A return to self. A return to place. A return on investment.

To go elbow or shoulder deep into and after dreams. To cast off the sea monkeys.