Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stop Everything and Clap

Yesterday my neighborhood elementary school had their 8th grade graduation. There's a new thing now in primary, middle, and even secondary education circles where they call the event a 'promotion' ceremony instead of a graduation. The thinking behind this is that some folks don't want children to think that 8th grade is an end-game accomplishment. So they try to downplay the significance of things like kindergarten 'graduation' or 8th grade 'graduation' by reducing the amount of pomp and circumstance around it. Our school has its share of edu-speak parents, administrators and teachers on this bandwagon. I'm decidedly not on that wagon.

So, as I do every year, I cried tears of joy as I watched the children march down the halls in their caps and gowns, uncomfortably trodding along in too-tight shoes and make-up they don't know how to apply yet, fresh hair-cuts and pressed shirts, all grins and pent-up emotions. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some other PTA moms, the building engineer, the cafeteria supervisor. I stood across from giggly, wriggly 1st graders, awed into jaw-slack as they watched their, now-former, classmates march away into the unknown nethers of life after Peterson. The little ones, like we did, clapped and cheered, along with their teachers and every single other person in the building - all of us lining the halls to bid the Class of 2013 adieu, farewell, and good luck.

That's because at Peterson it is a (fine, spectacular, heart-warming, inspiring, bittersweet) tradition to have everyone stand in celebration as the 8th grade graduates proceed to their 'promotion' ceremony. There's an announcement over the loudspeaker a few minutes before they leave. "It's time..." you can hear the school clerk grinning into the overhead, "teachers, please line up your students." And all throughout the building, some 800+ children and adults stop everything they are doing, head into the hallways, stand together and clap. We clap loudly, enthusiastically and with emotion. And it is awesome.

I hope that tradition lasts. I hope all the graduates at Peterson get to feel that joy, that pride and thrill that comes from having their community stop to notice them, appreciate them and cheer for them.  I think we ought to do more of that, not just there but in other places. Everyone should get that some time in their life, and everyone should get the joy that comes from giving that pleasure to someone else. Every once in a while, we all ought to stop everything and clap.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It's Who You Know, When You Play

"I love playing baseball with Theo and Jim," my son smiled at me.

"Me too," I smiled back.

As a point of clarification, I don't actually play - and neither does Jim, really. Jim coaches his son's team, one that my son had been on since he started Little League. This year, my son is on another team so now the boys occasionally play opposite one another. No matter. We all hug when we arrive, same when we leave, and our family can't help but root for Jim's son, Theo, when he's up to bat or on the mound. (This makes for some funny looks from the parents on our side of the field, especially when our Sam is batting against Theo, but we're o.k. with that.)

After the last game we had together I asked Sam what he and Theo were talking about during the game. Sam plays third and Theo had reached on a steal so they had a few moments to chat. I'd admonished Sam for what I suspected was some friendly trash-talking but he corrected me and said that both he and Theo's dad, Jim, were joking around, teasing Theo for some thing or another.

Jim's actually good for a few editorial comments during a game and most of them make me smile ear-to-ear. In this last game, one of our players made a gravity-defying play at 1st after which Jim remarked loudly to his team, "OK, you saw that, so when you get up there don't hit to R." I'm sure the kids wondered whether he was being serious or silly. He was being both.

That's because Jim totally gets it. He totally, completely, entirely gets baseball. He gets it and he loves it. You can feel that love coming right off of him and spreading out onto the field and running over the bases with the kind of glee only sticky-fingered toddlers understand. When Jim plays catcher to his son's pitches during warm-ups you can tell his son is feeling his dad's love for him. It's in the touch of leather against leather and the smell of dust and the pale of waning sunshine. If he doesn't get it then he must during the game. I think Jim levitates sometimes when Theo makes a great play or throws a screamer past an unsuspecting batter. The joy they're sharing with one another on the field tingles in the air around them and you can't help but smile at it and at them. And he's not selfish about it. Jim is just as giddy to see another player have his day, and he's terrible at hiding his thrill. That's what makes it so fun, after all.

By the same token, when Theo - or any player - needs a bit of encouragement or a mild correction, Jim is there with a quiet word or a plain-spoken suggestion. He's not soft, by any means, but you could never say he was hard either. He's just what you would need your dad or your coach to be when you needed him to be just that thing. And Theo's growing into his young man-hood with this dad by his side, stretching and reaching - sometimes away, I'm sure - but showing that good humor, a spirit of fair play and love of the game run deep in this family.

They do in mine, too. And that's why we love playing baseball with Jim and Theo.