Giving it Her Best Shot: Tennis With My Daughter

Dear Caroline,

You had to be about 12 or so the first time you and I played tennis together. We went out on to the courts at the beach club where we were members for nine years. You must have had on a bathing suit and sneakers, maybe without socks. The tennis racquet looked so large in your hand. We each took our side of the net and began to hit the ball back and forth.

Right away I could see you could be a good player. You ran after every shot hit to you, and tried to return everything, too. You had a strong, smooth stroke, better on the forehand than the backhand. I was excited to be playing tennis with you, and to see how you took to it right away.

I love tennis, first played as a teenager, at maybe 18, but never gave it much time, too preoccupied with basketball, only to come back to the sport years later. And now I was out there on a warm summer day at the beach playing tennis with my daughter.

We played once in a while at the beach club, and then a few times a year at Cunningham Park, and you got better and better. You seemed to learn something new every time we played. You would get in front of the ball faster or bring your racquet back earlier or swing harder to smack a shot back at me.

That was no small skill right there, educating yourself as we played. It showed concern for craft, for performance.

But there was something else that impressed me the most, more than your natural abilities – your quick feet, your smart hands, your grace and your mobility – and even more than the close attention you paid to playing.

Your sharp, unwavering focus.

It was the effort you always made. You always tried your best. I never had to try to encourage you or motivate you, never had to call out and say, “Come on, Caroline.” Oh, no. It came naturally to you, instinctively, to push yourself hard, to try to discover what you could accomplish.

That always made me so proud. Trying hard at anything was a reward I discovered late in life myself, probably in my 20s or so, and even then still none too well. I was just one of those kids who would do my homework or play softball and if I got tired and it felt too hard, I would quit.

Just enough was good enough.

It was only much later that I realized there was never all that much need, when tired, to quit. You could keep going. And if you kept going, if you broke through that barrier of fatigue, you could find new strength, what athletes have called the second wind.

So to see you giving your best every minute at tennis brought me a double pleasure. Unlike me at that age, you had no quit in you. And I’m guessing now, seeing your dedication to everything you do, especially your singing, that you’ll never have any quit in you.

P.S. — Question of the Day: What do you tell your kids about trying hard?

No Holds Barred: Grappling With My Son

Dear Michael,

You’ve warned me – you, at age eight, weighing in at all of 48 pounds – that you intend to kick my butt. Now the time has come.

It’s Sunday, we’re here at the gym, on a gray mat. I’ve dropped to my knees to approximate your height, and we’re wrestling.

You charge at me, scowling and growling, and put all your moves on me. The clothesline. The pile driver. The suplex. You know plenty of moves.

Still, I slip one arm around your neck, the other between your thighs, and hoist you over my head for a full body slam.

Our match is make-believe, of course. Neither of us intends to hurt the other – we’re just pretending to. I pull my punches, but still you go reeling. You attack me with a bogus face rake, and I snap my head back, yowling in feigned pain.

As we grapple, I ask myself, Should I let him win?

You had gotten interested in pro wrestling about a year earlier. You watched matches on TV, absorbed in the antics of Earthquake, Typhoon and the Nasty Boys. We bought you plastic models of your favorite figures, Hulk Hogan, The Macho Man, the Million Dollar Man. You subscribed to a monthly wrestling magazine, dipping deep into your allowance of $3 a week.

You begged us to take you to a tournament at Madison Square Garden. So we did. There, wrestlers with fire hydrant necks and arms like suspension-bridge cables strutted around the ring glowering. They leaped off the ropes and flung each other around with impunity, all in a carefully choreographed charade of combat.

But if the bout was a circus, the audience was a sideshow. Tattoos and biker jackets, cheering and jeering, nose rings, Goth makeup – the arena had more testosterone than a prison riot.

We took you to other tournaments, and your preoccupation grew into a full-fledged fixation. You collected wrestling cards. With your plastic action figures you enacted imaginary clashes between Ric Flair and Sid Justice. You scanned your wrestling magazine for news about the Undertaker and the Legion of Doom. Three nights a week you watched matches on TV, maybe between the Big Boss Man and the Ultimate Warrior.

Soon you knew all about every wrestler, right down to height, weight, age, ring record and best moves, and at the dinner table spared us no detail. All you ever wanted to talk about – any time, any place, with anyone – was wrestling. Our conversations addressed such pressing issues as,

Who was better, Rowdy Roddy Piper or the Warlord?

OK, I figured, no harm, no foul. Pro wrestling gave you heroes to root for and villains to boo at. You could thrive on the imaginary inflicting of pain, on fantasies of dominance and submission. Wrestling would school you in the wages of conflict and competition, in the lessons of fair play and cheating, of right versus wrong.

Oh, make no mistake: I had my concerns. Pro wrestling sends certain unfortunate messages to its audience. If you’re frustrated and angry, for example, your best bet is to bash someone in the kisser, or worse. The sport promotes a win-at-all-costs aggression. Of all the forms of cultural enrichment available, pro wrestling – with contestants who bring folding chairs into the ring to leverage as bludgeons – was never quite what your mother and I envisioned for you.

So now we’re wrestling, you and I, and I have all of this on my mind.

Should I let you win?

You’re all spindly limbs flailing. You rush me for a clothesline – right arm outstretched, the better to knock my head off. You fold your arms and ram me, and I spill backwards onto the mat. Your spunk surprises me. You clamber on top of me, your chest athwart mine, your palms pressed to the floor. I squirm under you, barely lifting my shoulder blades off the mat, as if unable to escape.

With your breath warm on my face, I lie still and let you pin me. For my money, you earned your victory.

P.S. — Question of the day: Would you let your child win? Why yes or no?

Your Audition with Nanna

Dear Caroline,

We were all at Nanna’s apartment one day and you were going to sing for her. I think you might have told Nanna you liked to sing and she said go ahead, let me hear you.

You were young, maybe eight or nine, still new to singing, but already feeling strongly about it. I remember we were in her den. You were so pleased to be getting an opportunity for a new audience for your singing.

Nanna stayed seated on the sofa and you stood in front of her, hands clasped, and began to sing. It was probably one of those Disney songs you loved, something from “The Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and The Beast,” or maybe it was “Colors of the Wind,” a song you early on claimed as your own.

Whatever you sang, you went right into it like a little professional, all business. I looked at you and saw you focus so hard, your pitch perfect, your delivery heartfelt.
And then I looked at Nanna. She had tilted her head back, her nose in the air, her eyebrows raised.

Her look said, Go ahead with your song, impress me, I’ll be the judge.

I was none too crazy about the expression on her face. The look had a certain hauteur, as if you were auditioning for her and she were some kind of agent or producer or casting director. I hated her at that moment for having such a look on her face. As far as I was concerned, it was the wrong look.

After all, you were her little great-granddaughter. She should have watched you as a great-grandmother should, with absolute approval and affection, smiling and nodding her head up and down with encouragement.

But no, I kept you watching you, then watching her, all the while expecting her expression to change, to improve, to soften. Surely at some point Nanna would recognize your talent and ambition and signal her satisfaction.

But as you sang, her face stayed the same, judging you as if were a cadet going through your paces at West Point. After your song, she corrected your diction and told you how you should stand. I forgot what else she said, probably something like, “That was very nice, dear,” more mild and noncommittal than anything.

No matter. I wish she could hear you now. I wish she knew how much you’ve already accomplished in your career. That would show her. That would wipe that stupid look off her face.

The Two of You, Brother and Sister, Together Forever

Dear Michael,

Back we now go to those photos, handy triggers to memory.

Here you are, in a bathtub foamy with bubbles, your mouth open and jubilant, with a nearby companion: Caroline. You might be six years old, she only about one, and she’s looking pretty tickled, too.

Now you’re alongside her crib, Caroline standing inside, and you’re leaning in with a smile, your hands on the railing, her hands on yours.

Look, you seem to be saying. I have a sister.

Now you’re both seated in a restaurant, the two of you maybe eight and three years old. Your right arm is curled around her shoulder, bringing her close to you. She’s pressing her forehead against your cheek, jutting her jaw out with sisterly pride.

We’re brother and sister, you both appear to be saying. And nobody can ever take that away from us.

In photo after photo, this is unmistakably how it is with you and Caroline.
You’re standing by our old black bookshelf in your powder-blue pajamas, both hands clutching your sister. You’re looking laid back, the stalwart defender, and she’s practically hanging on you, smiling impishly.

You’re both in Mystic now, maybe at Abbott’s, the bay in the background. You’re behind her, your chest to her back, and you’re holding her, your left arm around her waist. Once again you smile but faintly, an impression of contentment. Caroline, though, smiles harder, feeling safe and privileged and lucky in this embrace.

Now you’re both in a restaurant again, with Caroline evidently on your lap. You’re hugging her from behind, your arms wrapped around her shoulders, your face right next to hers. Again, she’s showing teeth and you none, but the image clearly indicates intent. You’re there for Caroline and she’s thrilled you are, and it makes you feel pretty good, too.

Jump ahead five years, 10 years, 15 years, and the story stays largely the same. Your arm is around her and she’s the little sister, you’re both playing your roles, hitting your marks, knowing your lines.

But it’s more than that, much more. It’s the connection by blood. In these photos I see how very much you mean to each other, how very much you belong to each other.

I come away from these photos feeling greatly rewarded. As to why, just do the math. Mom and I created you. Then we created Caroline. But now you both have created something else: brother and sister together.

And that means something important to me. You’ll take care of each other. You’ll always have each other to count on.

A One-Time Offer to Readers: Part 3

Dear Reader,

If you’ve read my blog since its launch in June, then you’ve gotten to know our kids, Michael and Caroline.

You’ve learned about the day Michael took his time getting born. And about the struggle Caroline faced coming into being.

You’ve found out about how Michael liked to sleep on the floor of our bedroom despite the risk of winding up trampled. And about how Caroline cried the day her pet goldfish died and she buried its body at sea.

But as Frank Sinatra sang – and Tony Bennett, too — the best is yet to come.
In the months ahead, you’ll hear more about Michael. How he turned into Mr. Cool and mastered pushups and started going out with girls.

You’ll get better acquainted with Caroline, too. How she picked up tennis and turned into a Gal About Town and blossomed as a singer.

Some time next year you’ll also get the details on what I love about both our kids. I’ll actually itemize the umpteen reasons.

And you’ll catch the modest doses of advice I’ve deigned to share with both.
That’s ultimately why I encourage you to subscribe to this blog — because the best is truly yet to come.

Meantime, please let me know what you think. I’m eager to hear from you, too.

P.S. – Tomorrow this blog resumes its regularly scheduled programming.

A One-Time Offer to Readers: Part 2

Dear Reader,

Once again I hereby officially invite you to subscribe to my blog,

Once again this is a one-time offer only – except of course technically this is my second offer.

Once again this lifetime subscription is available free.

Only now I’m offering a discount.

If you’re under 100 years old, you get 15% off.

And if you subscribe today, you’ll get an additional 10% off.

Just imagine what you can do with all the money you’ll save!

But all seriousness aside, let me tell you why you should take advantage of this offer – an offer that may never be available again until tomorrow or maybe next Tuesday at the absolute latest.

If you subscribe to my blog, you’ll never get fat.

You’ll never be hungry again, either.

Best of all, you’ll never get old.

In short, you’ll be happy 24 hours a day, year in and year out, even possibly several months into your afterlife (though why you would need an afterlife if you never get old I have no idea).
But why take my word for it? The New York Times recommended my blog:

So did Woman’s Day:

Chances are, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were even remotely aware of my blog, it would recommend it, too.

Ditto the World Health Organization.

So ask yourself, “Do I want a bright future? Do I, in my heart of hearts, truly believe I deserve eternal bliss?”

If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then subscribe now.

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

A One-Time Offer to Readers

Dear Reader,

I hereby officially invite you to subscribe to my blog,

It’s OK: I cleared it with the FCC first.

“Even so,” you might ask, “why should I subscribe? After all, it’s just another blog.”

Well, for starters, you’ll lose all your extra weight overnight.

You’ll also be able to earn millions of dollars a day working from home in your spare time.

And you’ll have the best relationships you ever imagined.

Can any other blog you know make such claims?

But here’s the clincher. A lifetime subscription to is now free.

True, it was free before. But now it’s even freer.

In fact, it’s twice as free. And that’s a 50% savings!

Here’s the catch, though. It’s a one-time offer only.

Or at least it will be until the second time it’s offered.

So act now, before it’s too late to save your life. Happiness absolutely guaranteed or your money back, no questions asked.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.