Monday, June 23, 2014

UT Ceremony

As we get closer to the end our unaccompanied tour (UT), people often ask me: was it worth it?

And the answer, for me, is: I don't know. How can I measure worth here? I mean, it's worth it in the sense that it's almost done, and we shouldn't have to do it again during his career. It was worth it in that I found out I was capable of doing it (most days, anyway). Inner wells of strength, blah, blah, blah.

I'll be interested, once Bart finishes (soon, we all hope), in what his answer will be. Because he's faced completely different challenges over there than I have over here, and any rewards he may have gotten from the work are things I can't speak to, can't really even know. Was it worth it? Should I ask him to guest post, do you think?

One interesting thing came of this UT tour recently. Others have blogged about this before, but in case you don't know - the State Department gives medals and certificates of appreciation to children whose parents serve at unaccompanied posts. It's something State gets really right: recognizing and appreciating the sacrifice that these kids make in service of our country. They give up dads and moms for a year so our country can make use of them, and it is not an easy year for these kids. (I feel relatively fortunate: we haven't had any serious issues, health-wise, psychologically, etc., because of this year apart, but there are lots of kids who suffer both mentally and physically, and there is just no way to know which kids will be hit the hardest. We've all heard the scary stories of kids who fall apart under the pressure, and we all watch our kids closely for signs of beyond-the-normal suffering.)

Here in Amman, Ambassador Jones has made a tradition of presenting the medals and certificates to the children in a formal ceremony at his house. (Perhaps because he has kids and has done the UT thing himself? At any rate, he and his wife have been incredibly supportive of the UT families throughout his tenure, and not everyone can say that about their Ambassador!) And so it happened that earlier this month, we received an invitation to attend this event with the 4 other UT families here at post.

The Ambassador gave a thoughtful little speech, directed at the kids, letting them know that he knows each of their parents personally and appreciates the work they are doing. It was a nice speech. Then each child got to take a picture with him. Ainsley was shy at first, but then turned all stalker-like and wouldn't leave him alone. Apparently shaking his hand was so fun the first time around that she needed to do it again. And again. And....

Also: Ainsley happened to be studying the concept of "abstract art" in school that week. I told her that the Ambassador and his wife have some beautiful artwork on their walls thanks to the "art in embassies" program, so she galloped right in and demanded to see their abstract art. She marched from one wall to the next, pointing out all of the abstractness like a little museum docent gone mad. This was right before she started her compulsive handshaking. I'm pretty sure the Ambassador and his wife collapsed into spasms of laughter the moment the door shut behind us at the end.

Afterwards, we all hung around and made ice cream sundaes topped with m&ms and other awesome kid fare.

Well, not all of us hung around. Seamus and his friend G were late for a baseball game, so as soon as they got their certificates, they grabbed their sundaes to go and took off with coach Uhh-Ron. We caught up later, because you know me, I never miss a chance to hang at the Dirt Pit!

Anyway. It was a lovely afternoon, and while I'm not sure if my youngest kids understood why we were there, I know the older ones did.  

The whole family posing for pictures.

K with her UT besties. No photo of her with the Ambassador, alas.  She was too quick and it came out too blurry.

Scenes from a pack out.

Sunday morning. Ainsley stumbles into kitchen wearing jammies.

Ainsley: What day is it?

Me: It's Sunday.

Ainsley, sad voice: Oh. Brooke's gone.

Sunday afternoon.

Kyra: What day are we leaving again?

Me: I have no idea. We still don't have tickets.

Kyra: But tomorrow?

Me: No. This week some time, though.

Monday morning.

Aidan: Did Carter's plane take off already?

Me: Yes, at 4am.

Aidan: (sad silence)

Monday afternoon.

Ainsley, to herself, while opening cupboards: No, not there. No, not there, either. No, not there. No, not there. Nope!

Me: What's wrong?

Ainsley, angry voice: I'm trying to color a picture for daddy. But you packed all of the crayons except for one yellow one.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

June goodbyes

Here's what happens in June.

First, big trucks start showing up on the streets, parked in front of the houses of your closest friends. The trucks are loaded with empty wooden crates, tall enough to stand in. A great gaping hole on one side of the truck exposes the innards of these rough crates, waiting to swallow box after cardboard box, each neatly (but probably incorrectly) labeled with your friend's name and onward post.

Men in colored shirts emblazoned with inane logos ("Moving your possessions here, there, everywhere!" "We'll take you there!" "Moving you across the globe!") toss cardboard boxes into wooden crates, nailing them shut while you watch. They see shoes and dishes, rugs and candlesticks. You see kids with flashlights running through trees, meteor showers high above a rooftop, secrets told after one too many glasses of wine. The things they see can be measured in kilos and pounds. You see laughter and tears and all the things nobody else can possibly know except for you and the people whose name is printed on the boxes. They are clear-eyed, careful but bored. You are misty-eyed and emotionally exhausted.

June. School closes and children scramble off of buses, bearing sealed envelopes to be hand carried to another school in another country somewhere. One small child clutches a handful of tissues while another tells the story of how she clung to her teacher, sobbing, until the bus monitor carefully peeled her off and guided her onto the bus.

June. People wander the halls of the Embassy, clutching check-out sheets 5 pages long, moving from office to office, working out the logistics of selling cars, shipping pets, paying traffic tickets, closing down phone lines. (Other people, having just arrived, wander the halls with check-in sheets, but you don't think much about them. Maybe you would have been good friends, but it's too late now. They'll get to know another city, one without you in it.)

June. People compare notes - which friends might be on the same flights out, or vacationing in the same cities? "Will you be in DC this summer?", we all ask, knowing the chances of meeting up are slim-to-none.

June. Every afternoon you hug another friend tightly, knowing she'll be boarding a plane in the early hours of the following morning, before you've even made your coffee. Planes fly out each morning, heading west for home leave and vacations, carrying away first one friend and then another, until finally it's the last night. The night when the Best Friends are leaving.

There's always a tight-knit group of people, parents and kids intertwined because of sleepovers or sports teams or jobs. And when the first of those families is scheduled to get on the plane, the rest of the families gather to laugh and mourn and try to stop the clock for just one more minute.

So it was for my group last Thursday night, with CL and STJ planning to leave us at dawn on Friday. We met at the Embassy for dinner and tried to squash in every photo, every hug, every last inside joke. The restaurant closed, tabs were settled, yet still we stayed on, nobody wanting to be the first to tell the kids to wrap it up. Because we, the parents, knew what tears would be triggered by the closing bell, and none of us wanted to be the one to ring it.

Finally though, it fell to me. It was close to midnight, and the little ones were chasing each other up and down the stairs. Someone opened a gate on Kyra's toenail, which separated from her toe and began to bleed. That the injury mirrored the evening stunned me - the blood, the tears, the literal ripping away of some vital piece of yourself. She sat in CL's lap, crying and holding her toe, while I went out to tell the big kids that their party was over.

Tears. That's what happens in June. That's what happened on Thursday night here at the Embassy. Everybody crying and clinging to each other, not wanting to let go.

Me? I didn't cry that night. I usually don't, and I'm not sure why. I tend to wait until I'm by myself the next day, and some little thing goes wrong, like we're out of milk again?, and then I lose myself in the tears.

Dry-eyed, I drove CL, STJ and their kids home (they sold their car earlier that afternoon) and sent my mind far away as I hugged them both goodbye. Then I brought my kids home and started our bedtime routine, same as any other night but several hours behind schedule and with that bloody toe still to attend to. My oldest son asked: when will we see them again? And I was honest when I told him, bluntly: I have no idea when. I know we will see them again. Maybe in months. Maybe not for years. I just don't know.

I didn't have the answer he wanted, which was, obviously, tomorrow. We'll see them tomorrow, I wanted to say. But of course that would've been a lie.

I went back to their house early the next morning, after they'd flown out. I had to meet the nanny, who was there tidying up in their wake. I needed to grab some things from their house, things that still needed to be turned in at the Embassy. The nanny opened the door for me, red-eyed and clutching an armload of sheets. I couldn't walk in the house. I couldn't do it. She passed a bag to me on the porch and we wished each other well. I turned my back on the house and made it all the way back to my car before I started bawling. I sat there in the car, bawling and snotting and wishing to have all of it back again.  But the truth is, once your friends leave, it's never, ever the same. You'll still stay in touch, sure. You'll still have the inside jokes on Facebook. But you'll never again have the intimacy that you once had.

Overseas, we move in and out of one another's houses with ease, not always bothering to knock. We share meals and kids and carpools. We share vacations and traumas. We share bosses and teachers. So much shared here that won't, that can't, be shared when you move on to new posts and new friends, new tragedies and joys.

More people fly out every day in June. We'll be on one of those planes any day now, and if we've done it right, we'll leave people crying in our wake, too.


There's nothing new to this story.

It's just June in the Foreign Service.

Father and son...

Learn from my mistakes, people. Take the time to fix your hair before you take all of your last night photos. This woman here? My very first Jordanian friend.

Protip 2: When taking touching photos of people hugging goodbye, pay attention to the background. Giant telephone distracts somewhat from the focus.

Pearl photobomb!


Awww. Kids posing for a BFF photo.

...and the ensuing photobomb.

Wha wha?

Kyra loves this man.

...but she may love this man more.

Two founding members of our UT club. Somehow I didn't get a picture of Paleo the entire night - imagine her there, please, coz she's my other UT hero.

The four musketeers. These guys are inseparable. And only one of them is staying next year, poor guy.

Okay. Starting to choke up now.

*sniff sniff this can't be happening*
Bloggers out there will recognize this couple, who kept me laughing all year long. Lucky to call them "IRL friends."

Cantaloupe. This is cheating, because I took this picture the day after. But me n her were just too bawly to include in the night-of pix. This woman is one of the people who carried us all though the week, so I needed to include her. Plus look! I remembered to fix my hair!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Last Day of School

This morning, for the last time ever in the history of me, I waved goodbye to a kindergartener, a second grader, a fifth grader and an eighth grader.

This is what they looked like four years ago, on the first day of school here in Amman, in August, 2010. Time does indeed fly.

Monday, June 16, 2014

They moved the finish line.

On June 1st, the kids woke up quite happy, because this is the month that daddy comes home for good!

That's right. Bart arrived in Iraq on June 23, 2013, (after two months of training in the U.S.) and so was scheduled to leave there on the 24th of June this year, having finished the one-year tour of duty for which he signed up. We have tickets out of Amman on June 25th, and big plans to head to Los Angeles for some seriously well-deserved R&R.

I've been watching the situation in Iraq nervously for the past month. He already missed part of his last trip home because of some bad goings-on over there, and it was seeming to my armchair-political-analyst-self that the situation there was rapidly going downhill.

But I don't think anyone was expecting it to turn quite so suddenly and dramatically for the worse. Have you been following the news? Then you'll know that last week it turned from "seriously dangerous, what was I thinking letting my husband go there," to "holy hell get out now while you still can."

(Perhaps now is a good time to remind my readers that my views in no way reflect the views of the State Department or the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. As far as I know, there is no official "holy hell get out now" alert level in the Foreign Service, although they should maybe think about adding that into their emergency action plan tripwires. You're welcome, DS.)

So if you don't know by now that the bad guys are heading toward Baghdad, picking up abandoned weapons and whatnot along the way, then maybe you should start following the news, because I don't have the time to give you the details. In short: it is ugly there, and getting uglier.

Last Friday afternoon, I was sitting on a beach chair by the pool at the Dead Sea, worrying about Bart and daydreaming about our upcoming vacation, when my cell phone rang. An international number - never a good sign.

It was my husband, calling to tell me that he won't be leaving Iraq on the 24th after all. He's been extended indefinitely due to the crisis. And even though I suspected this was coming, I have to confess that my heart fell into my flip flops when I heard the actual words.

On the one hand: this is his job. He is good at it, and the fact that he is there is saving lives. I am so, so proud of him for the work he does, and I don't think he'd leave in the middle of this disaster even if they let him.

On the other hand: we were ten days away from our family reunion. Ten days away from the end of his tour. Ten measly little days. And how, I wondered, was I supposed to tell the kids about this? On Kyra's birthday, no less.

The sun didn't seem quite so sunny after that, the water not quite so sparkly. I just sort of slumped in my beach chair and stared off into space, selfishly wondering what this would mean for my vacation plans and my plane tickets and my status as a non-widow and my chips and guacamole by the beach in LA.

I didn't tell the kids that day, and I only told a couple of friends. But by now, everyone knows. Everyone at the Embassy has heard the news, and once again friends have swarmed me with hugs and good wishes and dinner invitations. The kids' teachers have all been incredibly supportive, as have the other parents at the school. It's weird, living in this little bubble, because I am surrounded by people who get it, who know what is going on in my house right now because they've faced similar problems (and worse).

My blogger friends and DS spouse friends have been writing from DC and South America and Asia and Europe and Canada until I think everyone in the wide world out there is looking out for me. I hope the other DS families that have gotten the same order to stay in place are getting as much support as I am. I am feeling very lonely right now, but also very loved. What a strange combination.

So I'll spend the next few days alternating between watching the news and avoiding the news. I'll carry my cell phone around obsessively in case he calls. And I'll haunt various offices at the Embassy, where they might have information for me about what is going on across the border, or ideas about how to move ahead with our planned-and-paid-for home leave, despite the fact that we have absolutely no idea when Bart will come home.

We're leaving here next week. But without Bart.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

She's Eight!

I hate children's birthday parties. The whole theme/gift bag/pinata thing terrifies me. I was overjoyed when Seamus hit the fourth grade and decided he'd settle for a pile of cold, hard cash instead of hosting a birthday party. Every year at birthday time I look for excuses to not have a party.

This year, for Kyra's 8th birthday, I hit the birthday party jackpot. I didn't have to lift a finger, and yet this will go down in history as the Best Birthday Party Ever!!!

You see, she shares a birthday with my friend CL. And my other friend Mrs. GlobeHopper had a visiting relative that day. And then, a bunch of us are packed out and ready to move on. 

So we decided to go down to the Dead Sea for one last get together in honor of all of these things. 

And that is how Kyra ended up with 50 of our combined best friends singing happy birthday to her after a fancy dinner at a resort on the Dead Sea in Jordan. I didn't even have to bake a cake (thanks Mrs. G!).

I hate birthday parties. But I love watching my babies grow up. Kyra is such a smart, shiny, articulate little girl. 

And I love her.

Happiest baby ever!
Winter in Virginia
On the Great Wall of China
On the playground at the Int'l School of Beijing
Pre-school, Amman, Jordan
Petra, Jordan
Germany, 2011
...with Daddy in Germany.
Tel Aviv, 2014
...with the love of her life, Qais, a few weeks ago.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Yes. I should be packing. What's it to you?

It's Sunday morning and the movers will be here in 48 hours.

But I'm not worried.

Kyra is home from school, sick with a stomach ache. Me, I got bitten by something in the night, just on the edge of my eye, so I woke up with a lump on my cheek and one eye swollen shut.

My to-do list is 6 miles long, my trash can is overflowing with expired spices, my sink is full of thawing mystery tupperware and I'm out of cat food. I do have about 200 pounds of dog food still in the house, though, so there's that.

I have no idea if the kennel lady is showing up or not tomorrow to pick up the dog and the cat so they aren't underfoot when the packing starts. I am waiting to hear back from the insurance company, which has to change our coverage status before the movers can walk in the door. I have a pile of to-be-shredded on the counter, precariously close to the pile of to-be-hand-carried-to-post. Don't wanna mix those piles up!

I have lists for the kids of what needs to be packed into their suitcases and locked in the bathroom so it doesn't get shipped. And they've all turned over their allowance money so I can convert it from JD into dollars at the bank. I also need to go back to the travel office. I visited them every day last week but I still can't convince them that, as travel office employees, they should be able to get us seats together on the plane with relative ease.

I don't have any passports. It seems that the Russian Embassy in DC stamped them with visas and returned them to the State Department a few weeks ago. The State Department handed them to FedEx. FedEx assigned them a tracking number and shipped them. Shipped them somewhere. But not to Amman. Last we heard, they were spotted in Korea, maybe, possibly. And then someone there, recognizing the error but not knowing what to do about it, might have put them in the regular (read: slow) mail back to DC. Or maybe not. Information on their whereabouts is sketchy, but then again, as a friend pointed out, there is no chance they will accidentally get packed into the HHE this way! Silver lining.

I think pack out season is going great so far. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Jordan Favorites

Listen up, people who are moving to Amman this year.

I am so jealous. You have NO IDEA how many fun things there are to do here, or how much good food there is, or how many ways you can occupy a few free hours.

So I'm going to tell you.

Here it is: My Best of Jordan List...

Best easy vacation - Dead Sea Marriott. 45 minutes away. Just don't go during fly season.

Best farther away vacation - camping in Wadi Rum. Any camp will do. Just bring flashlights, snacks, a bottle of wine and lots of good friends.

Best facial - Mimi at Kinda in Abdoun. Women only. 593.2876.

Best falafel sandwiches - Abu Jbara off the 6-and-a-halfth circle, near the Holiday Inn, or Kalha on the Abdoun Circle. For straight up falafel, you need to make the trip downtown to Hashems.

Best food delivery -

Best fruit/vegetable delivery -

Best exercise class - Barre by Carrie at One2One in Dabouq.

Best massage - Olga at Kinda in Abdoun (women only - she also does laser hair removal). 593.2876.

Best salad - Books@Cafe in Abdoun - try the spinach and strawberry salad. (Bonus points - Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is right across the street!)

Best hair cut for women and girls - Nemer at Dikimio, near the Blue Fig in Abdoun.

Best hair cut for boys - Amin at Toni & Guy in Abdoun. 592.2999.

Best ice cream - Girards. Any location. Mint chocolate chip. Seriously. Don't even try it once, or you will be 15 pounds heavier when your tour is up.

Best vet/groomer - Vet Zone off the 8th circle. 582.3244.

Best Mexican food - My house, obviously. Second place? Fatty Dab's in Abdoun. Only on Tuesdays, though.

Best grocery store - Zait and Za'atar in Sweifiyeh. Near Starbuck and the...

Best (but not cheapest) butcher - Meat Master in Sweifiyeh.

Best photo op - Petra, probably, in front of the Treasury. Or maybe Um Qais, with the Sea of Galilee in the background.

Best school supplies - Istiklal in Sweifiyeh.

Best pediatric dentist. Dr. Sahar Jumean, north of the 7th circle. This lady rocks. You and your kids will both adore her. 585.3525.

Best orthodontist - Lema's mom, otherwise known as Dr. Zaha.  Across from Arab Medical Center. 592.0011.

Best romantic dinner date - Tanoureen. Unless you're planning to spring for a night at the Dead Sea. You can't go wrong with that on the romantical-scale either.

Best movie theatre - Taj Mall. Spring for the Taj Class seats, and get the caramel corn. Or get half sweet/half salty.

Best view - Wild Jordan off of Rainbow Street. You can see the Citadel from there, and you don't even have to battle downtown traffic.

Best jeweler - Ansara Jewelers on Al-Hamra Street in Swefiyeh. Honest, nice, and can make anything.

Best Emergency Room for when your kid shoves a soy bean up her nose on the first day you get your new car and you have no idea how to get anywhere yet - Arab Medical Center.

Best friends - Find your own. Mine are taken.

Anyone else in Amman have places to add?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Play Ball!

Baseball season comes to an end this weekend, hamdolillah.

It's been practically a full-time job for me this season, baseball has, because Seamus plays on the Senior League, Aidan plays Kid Pitch and Kyra plays Coach Pitch. I told Ainsley that she was too young for t-ball because, hello!, I'm out of time here, and it wasn't until midway through the season that she discovered the truth.

Each team has practice one day a week, with most games on Fridays (a weekend day here in Amman) and a few during the week. Many Fridays my game day at the Dirt Pit starts at 745am and ends at 330pm. Sitting in the sun on concrete bleachers for an entire Friday is not good on the spine or the skin - I think each Friday spent on those bleachers has taken a month off of my lifespan.

The situation has been made easier by good friends who were willing to carpool. Paleo has a kid on Kyra's team and another on Aidan's (the league allowed us to keep the kids together because we're both doing the single-parent-spouse-in-another-country-thing and needed help!), so that cut carpooling down. Uhh-Ron, another UT spouse, has a kid on Kyra's team and is helping coach Seamus' team, so he did the bulk of the driving for the Seniors League.  Even the HS principal has helped out with carpooling from school. Globehoppers and STJ also have Seniors on our team, which helps for both the carpooling and the company at the field.

I don't think I would've survived the season without these other parents, and not a week has gone by when I haven't said a little prayer of thanks that they are all in my life.

The thing about baseball is that I know nothing about it, and never particularly aspired to learn much beyond: watch where you park your car if you don't want a ball through the windshield (when those seniors hit a foul ball, they can do some serious damage).

I've had to learn though, this year, because Bart is in Baghdad and he wants to follow the games. So every week I sit in the stands and email him updates, inning by inning. I think he might tell you that I've gotten better at this task as the season has worn on. In the beginning my updates were usually something like "Seamus got a triple! Well, maybe not  a triple but he hit the ball, and the other guy missed it so he went to second and then he ran to third when the next guy hit it so is that a steal? Anyway he's on third base. Yay!" Or "Aidan's team is winning but it's the top of the 7th, or the bottom? I think the other team had their turn but I was in line at the saaj stand so I'm not sure but I think he's definitely up by 1! Yay!" (Aside: I'm betting Bart was secretly emailing CL and STJ to find out what was really happening, but if so, he never told me.)

By the end of the season, though, I've gotten better at my updates. I think I have, anyway, and if Bart wants to tell you differently, he'll have to start his own blog. In his spare time. Of which he has none. So let's go with my version, shall we? In short: I've become an awesome sportscaster.

Seriously, though.

I've paid much more attention to the games this year, because I know I'm his eyes and ears, and I know he looks forward to my inning-by-inning updates, sketchy though they may be. 

Because I'm writing to him, he knows that Kyra is doing a fantastic job in her first baseball season. She can hit, she can throw, she is fearless out there and always grinning ear-to-ear at the sheer joy of baseball. They don't keep score in Coach Pitch (everyone's a winner!), which makes it fun, because the parents just clap and cheer for everyone alike.

He knows that Seamus has stepped it up this year, in his first year on Seniors. I was worried about moving him up, because he really struggled with the skills last year, and Seniors League is no-joke-serious. No snacks. No cheery "nice-try!" coaches. You don't perform, you don't play. And the kids range in age from 14 to 18 - some of the kids on his team have full beards and order beer with their dinner when they go out to eat. But I am so glad he tried out, because he has made amazing progress. He got over his fear of the ball and lost his sense of intimidation at bat, and now he is routinely hitting the ball and making some great plays in the field. He still screws up a lot, but you know what's great about that? First, Coach Kevin rides those kids hard, and they all respond, including Seamus, by trying harder. He works at it, because his coach and teammates demand it. And he is seeing that if he works, he gets results. It's also great that he's playing with the big kids. Undoubtedly, he is learning some new vocabulary that we might not use in our house. But I can't complain, because the older kids are fantastic coaches themselves. The kid at first base is practically off to college, 30 pounds heavier than Seamus and with a faceful of hair. But he is so patient with the young guys as they work on fielding. After yesterday's game, one of the older kids stopped Seamus and said "great game, see you at school tomorrow." You tell me: when you were in the 8th grade, did you ever have a senior in high school stop and acknowledge your presence? The mentoring that goes on between the young kids and the older ones is, I think, priceless. I'm sure there is some colorful language in the dugout. But the kids are all respectful to one another and in awe of their coach, and it shows. They had a great season, losing one game, tying another and winning the rest, even while they had at least 4 kids who were playing Seniors for the first time.

And then there's Aidan. Aidan has been struggling recently, in baseball and in life. This unaccompanied tour has been hard on all of the kids, but Aidan is really missing his dad, and when you combine that with our upcoming move and the usual almost-in-middle-school angst, he's having a tough time. He's a sensitive kid who tucks his thoughts and feelings away, keeping mostly to himself, but you can see it wears on him nonetheless. 

He's been struggling with baseball this season, too. Every so often he gets a hit, or makes a play, but often as not he strikes out, or fails to stop a ball thrown his way, and then you can just see his whole self sort of collapse. I hate sending Bart the "Aidan struck out" updates too many innings in a row - it breaks my heart when he lets his shoulders sag and trudges back to the dugout, trailing his bat in the dirt, especially as he's been working hard this season. 

When Bart was here for a visit, the two of them played catch in the driveway, day after day. They both needed that time together, and it drove Aidan crazy when Kyra would try to join. The day after Bart left for Baghdad again, Aidan had a particularly awful game. He struck out every single time at bat. He missed some catches at third and got demoted into the outfield, where he failed to stop the ball every single time it came his way. He was trying. But somehow it just wasn't coming together. He missed his dad, he was feeling defeated and it showed. I just sat there on my concrete bleachers and tried not to cry. Tried. But failed. I had to pull my hat down and put on my biggest sunglasses so nobody else would notice the crazy lady in the stands, crying when her son struck out. (I'm becoming way too cry-ey these days somehow. Thank the lord for waterproof mascara.)

The next week, last week, was the last game of the season. We went back to the field, he and I, and he was determined to do better. I was determined to not cry, no matter what. I parked it next to Mrs. Slytherin in the spine-crushing concrete bleachers of death and got out my phone so I could email Bart my "he struck out" emails. And indeed, he struck out. But the next time he walked. The teams were fairly evenly matched, so the game was close throughout. Toward the end of the game, when he got his last turn at bat, I turned to Mrs. S and remarked "I don't care who wins, but is it too much to ask that my son gets just one decent hit? After that, who cares? I just want one good thing to happen for the kid."

He marched up to the plate, planted his feet, and - and he hit the ball, right between the pitcher and the first baseman. He made it to first base! 

Much celebrating was heard in the stands, not just by me, but by other parents who knew he'd been having a hard time. Everyone was happy for him, and I was grateful to them - even parents on the other team - for cheering their loudest.

I cheerfully settled in, not paying too much attention to the score, happy that my little prayer, petty though it was, had been answered. Turns out we were ahead, 9-8, but the other team still had one more chance at bat. (Bottom of the inning, I think that's called? Or top, maybe? Why can't they just call it the "last half"?)

Our pitcher, who is fantastic, struck out one kid. And a second. It was down to the last out of the game. A big kid stepped up and whacked the ball, high and fast, into the outfield, straight at Aidan. I cringed and prepared for the worst. Aidan jumped into the air, glove extended high above him.

And do you know what happened next?

He caught the ball.

He caught it. He came down to earth and looked in amazement at the ball, nestled safely in his glove. Then he looked at his teammates, who looked back and, as it sunk in that he had made the game-winning catch, all whooped and hollered and jumped on him. They fell into a pile of happy kids, Aidan at the bottom, and this mom started crying again. Seriously, she did. What is her problem? It's just a freaking game.

Except when it's not. It's a test, in a way, and Aidan passed that day. I whipped out my phone to email Bart, right then and there, because I knew he needed to know what had happened. I figured it might even make him cry, too, right there in his office full of tough federal agents. He knows what it means to Aidan. And I know what baseball means to the two of them, together.

Bart emailed me back later, writing, in part "As unbelievable as it seems, today’s events will stay with Aidan – even a small part – for the rest of his life. They will diminish to a spark and then someday – when he has kids of his own and his boys/girls get up to bat, these events will resurface and he will be able to tell them 'I get it – I was once afraid too… and then this happened, so I know you can do it.'" 

I don't think I'll ever really learn to love baseball. 

But this season, for the first time, I think I finally figured out what it means to the kids. The ways in which it helps them build character, to work together, to support each other. I finally figured out why it is so important for so many dads to play this game with their kids. I figured out why Bart was crushed to miss the season, perhaps more than anything else he missed this year. I figured out how huge it is that a kid can step up to the plate, over and over again, to face his fears, to swing and swing and swing again, missing most every time, but still coming back to that plate, inning after inning, one lone kid against the world, in the hope that some day, he just might get good enough to send a ball sailing over the fence.

Now if I could just figure out why they bunt sometimes. I think I'd know everything there is to know about baseball.

Please. Write your own stuff.