Guess What I Just Remembered ?



Who else  out there remembers racquetball?


If I’m correct, racquetball was one of those inexplicable fads that popular culture seems to experience every few years. Like oat bran.  Or leggings.

Something pops up somewhere, people decide its the cool new thing, and presto! Everyone is playing racquetball.

Back in the 80’s racquetball courts popped up everywhere, like dandilions in July. Every mall, every gym, every town had least one indoor racquetball court.  Whoopee!

I had my first racquetball experience around the around the age of 22, as I recall. I was still young and impressionable.  I believed all the people who said that the game was fun and exciting and great exercise.

I was in love! If my beloved wanted to buy us both racquets and very very hard rubber balls to hit with said racquets, I was all about it!

I was still idealistic. For some incomprehensible reason, I believed that even a person like me, a person who had once knocked herself in the nose with a softball bat while swinging at a pitch, a person this clumsy, could still achieve some level of athletic success.

What an idiot.

I remember coming home from work to our tiny apartment, eating dinner and then grabbing our racquets. We put on our short shorts (it was 1978), our high white athletic socks and our sneakers. And off we went. Lookin’ fine.

I remember that there were locker rooms where we could store our jackets or sweatshirts. I remember this because I’m pretty sure it was the first time outside of high school where I actually stepped into a locker room.  There were other women in there, and they all looked confident and sure of themselves.  Some of them even had on sweatbands.


I remember that the racquetball “court” was a cube made out of solid rubber.  I think even the floor and ceiling were rubber.

My voice sounded echoey in there, and I liked that part.  I think I even sang a little the first time Paul and I stepped into our cube.

That was the last part I ever enjoyed.

Because to this day I have no idea of how to play that stupid game.  All I recall is that we were supposed to smash the hard hard hard blue ball into the wall in front of us and then use our racquets to smash it back there again.  Of course, given that the cube was made of the same incredibly dense rubber as the terrible ball, it was almost impossible to know where the ball would go once you smacked it with your racquet.

Sometimes it hit the ceiling, sometimes the wall on the right, sometimes the left.  And sometimes it hit directly in front of your sweaty young face so that it careened back at you at the speed of light, leaving you helpless to deflect it with the tiny racquet in your hand.

The first time that happened, I discovered that I do have some athletic skill after all.  I let out a shriek that could have etched glass, dropped the racquet and hit the floor in less than a nanosecond.

For the remainder of the “game”, Paul scored points while I tried to stay alive. I guess it was good cardiovascular exercise, because I can tell you that my heart rate stayed way way up there the whole time.

We played quite a few times after that.  I never got any better at figuring it out, but I didn’t die either, so I guess it turned out well.

I was profoundly relieved when the next fad involved oat bran muffins.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Ah,'re breaking my heart......!

Ah, Cubbies…’re breaking my heart……!

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe that a really strong spirit can come back to visit Earth after it has passed on to the next plane?

Maybe if a person has been particularly single minded in this earthly life, and if something extra special happens on earth after that person has moved on, maybe that person can come back to experience that special event.  You think?

I believe it.  I do!

And I believe that if that person is so strong and so focused, I truly believe that he or she can bring a few other people back from the other side, too.  Just for a short time. Maybe just for a very, very special celebration.

Who knows?

I can’t know for sure, of course, given that I am stuck here in this earthly plane for now.  I can’t see those spirits who come back to join us in our mortal lives.

But I do have a pretty strong hunch that right this very minute down in the clubhouse at old Wrigley Field, the shortstop of the 1945 Cubs has come back to taste the bubbly with the boys.  I’m almost sure that as those young men hug each other and pound each other on the back, Uncle Lennie Merullo is standing right there in the middle of them, laughing out loud and soaking up the spotlight.

If I know my Uncle Lennie, his spirit is moving around the room, hoping to get itself into every news reporter’s shot.  He’ll be trying to hold up his left hand, showing off that big shiny World Series Ring.  He’ll be giving his big, familiar grin, and his dark eyes will be sparkling with humor and pride. “I was the last living Cub to have played in a World Series!”, he’ll be crowing. “When I died last May, there was no one left alive how had played in a Series for the Cubs!”

And just as surely as I know that Uncle Lennie is there, right smack in the middle of that crazy celebrating gang of young Cubbies, I know that his brothers, all 8 of them, are standing in the doorway, peeking into the room in awe.  I know that his three sisters are giggling, shaking their heads and watching the action.

I know they’re there. I can feel them as I look at the TV screen.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I sure do.

Uncle Lennie, damn, I wish you could have hung on for this night! But I know you’re helping from the other side. Keep cheering!  Keep on pulling strings! 

And can you please tell my Dad how much I miss him?  Love you!

Teaching as baseball…. a metaphor

MLB 2013: Yankees vs Dodgers JUL 30

The cool thing about Derek Jeter is that he went out while he was still on top. He was still “Derek Jeter”. You know?  He wasn’t a has-been. He wasn’t that sad old guy that made everyone feel bad when he came up to bat.

The same is true of Michael Jordan. He was still “Michael”.  Sigh.  Best looking basketball player since Gerald Henderson.  He was Michael. He was a basketball GOD.

Maybe teaching should be the same.  Maybe those of us who were stars back in the day should learn how to gracefully step aside while we are still “My Favorite Teacher!”   Maybe we should accept the fact that time goes by, teaching trends shift, expectations change.

Today I had a very emotional day.  The PTSO came to show me the books that were purchased in my name for the school library. I read the words: “In appreciation for the many years of service”.  I teared up, big time. I imagined years of children pulling the books off the shelf and seeing my name.

I pictured them asking each other, “Who’s this?”

I suddenly understood: if the old guard doesn’t step aside, the new stars cannot emerge.

I was really good at my job.  Oh, I was no Derek Jeter, but I was a pretty good utility infielder.  I had my time. And now that time is over.

I want to be Derek Jeter. I want to go out gracefully, maybe with a home run to celebrate the end of my career.

I don’t want to be Brett Favre.  I don’t want the young people to feel sad when they see me desperately trying to hang on to my glory days.

Today I met the young man who will be joining our team in my place.  He is alert, energetic, excited.  He is smart and happy and ready to go.

He is the new star.

I need to wish him well, hand over my favorite bat, and bow out gracefully.

For once in my non-athletic life, I need to share something with the admirable Derek Jeter.

Good bye, good luck, and thanks.

MLB 2013: Yankees vs Dodgers JUL 30

I’ve been a Red Sox fan since in 1967.  I love my Sox. I hate those Yankees.

In the midst of the glorious, dramatic, emotional, incredible fall of 2004, when my team was fighting back against those Damn Yankees to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, I was as eager as any other New Englander to hate everyone in pinstripes.  Fans and players and coaches alike, we despised them all.

But when it was all over, and the crazy euphoria of the miracle year began to fade, I realized that I didn’t actually hate them all in quite the same way.

I knew pretty early on his career that I would have nothing but disdain for the self-absorbed pretty boy known as A-Rod.  I feel sorry for him, in many ways, but I have always thought that he was the quintessential jerk.  And it was pretty easy to dislike guys like Mike “I went to an Ivy League School” Mussina and Jason “I’m a thug” Giambi. I was able to whip myself up against Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, and all the rest of those loud mouthed, bad accented, New York jack asses.

But somehow, try as I might, I couldn’t get myself to hate Derek Jeter.

I mean, sure I wished him ill.  I wished him strikeouts and dropped balls and maybe even the occasional pulled hammy.

But I couldn’t get myself to hate the man himself.

Derek Jeter always seemed like an old time baseball hero.  He was a guy who could have swaggered and postured like Manny Ramirez.  But he didn’t.  He could have been a womanizing, bragging, A-list-actress dating ass.  But he wasn’t. He was more like the guy I always thought Honus Wagner must have been.  He was the NY version of Gentleman Jim Lonborg.

He was a true ball player.  He was grateful for the chance to play the game.  Unlike the JD Drew and Manny types on my team, he didn’t take days off for fatigue or hangnails or bad haircuts.  He showed up, and he played. He always gave it his best.

But here is the reason why I most admire the Captain of the New York Yankees.

I once heard him interviewed on an ESPN special. He talked about being nine years old, and lying in bed, dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yanks. He was a New Jersey kid, and the Yankees were his team.  Like ten million kids before and after him, Jeter dreamed of playing for his home team.  He talked about how he got up from bed, a little boy with a big dream, and went into his parents’ bedroom. He woke them up so that he could tell them what he dreamed of doing with his life. “Someday”, he said, “I’m going to play shortstop for the Yankees.”  His parents’ reaction is what I love the most about this story. They listened to him seriously, and then they told him to go for it. “You’re going to have to work really hard.”, they said. “You can do it if you really want to.  Now go back to bed.”

I love that story.  I love that Derek Jeter took that work ethic to heart, and made his dream come true.

When my fifth graders talk about their dreams, they sometimes add the words, “But it probably won’t come true.” I always tell them about Derek Jeter, and about the night he woke his parents up to announce his intentions. I repeat their wise advice, and I tell my students that they will have to work hard, but that they can achieve any dream they seek.

Thank you, Derek Jeter. Thank you for the drama and delicious euphoria of 2004. Thank you for being a real live, honest to God role model. Thank you for being someone I can refer to when I talk to my students about goals and dreams.

I’m still glad that the Yanks didn’t make the playoffs, but I am truly sad tonight as I watch Derek Jeter play his last game at Yankee Stadium.  It is truly the end of an age.


Even when they're awful....they're my team.

Even when they’re awful….they’re my team.

One of the hard things about being a parent is helping kids to learn what it means to be a good human being.   It’s hard to teach them that integrity is something that can’t be faked.

One of the really hard things about being an elementary school teacher is helping children to learn and understand that winning is really fun, but there is more.

I’m a Red Sox fan. I know a lot about losing teams, and about unexpected success. I know a lot about loyalty, and sticking with your team even when it sucks.  I’m a Red Sox fan; the memory of the 2004 American League Series will stay with me forever.


There have been few things in my life that have been sweeter than defeating the Damn Yankees. Watching A-Rod squirm. Watching Jeter Mourn. Watching Mariano blow it.

But here we are now, in 2014.  And A-Rod has been exposed as the cheater that he was. Mariano has retired. Both the Red Sox and the Yankees are awful this year. There will be no playoff rivalry this year.

This year its all different.

This year is the last year of Derek Jeter’s career.  And I find myself thinking, often, of how I can use him as a role model for my students. How he can be a perfect example of what it means to have integrity.

Oddly enough, Derek Jeter is reminding me of my Dad.

Like Dad, Derek Jeter took his job seriously.  He was humble.  Did you ever here Jeter refer to himself as “we”?  Me either.

Like my Dad, Derek Jeter was always aware of how lucky he was to have his job, his skills, his success. He is rich, but I don’t know if he lived that way.  He is single, but I have never heard of him being filmed in the elevator with a celebrity, have you?

I know that Derek Jeter isn’t a real hero: he hasn’t saved lives or changed the world or created beautiful art.  But he can be a hero in my classroom this fall, as I talk to my class about integrity, and doing your best, and about being a good sport.  He can help me as I talk to the kids about why it is important to support your own team but to appreciate the talents and skills and admirable traits of the “enemy”, too.

Maybe those lessons can go beyond the fifth grade classroom. Maybe they can resonate beyond baseball.

Who knows.

What I know is that I hope I can be at Derek Jeter’s last Fenway game.  I’ll cheer myself hoarse.

Baseball Voodoo

I became a baseball fan way back in June of 1967.

To be specific, I became a Red Sox fan in June of 1967.

My fifth grade teacher brought us all to a night game at Fenway, and the Sox won in the tenth inning on what had not yet been labelled a “walk-off homerun”.   It was fun, it was exhilarating, Tony Conigliaro was cute and heroic and not that much older than me. I fell in love, and I fell hard.

I became a Sox fan, and that meant pain. I watched my Sox come close in ’67, then founder and drift and struggle and come close a few times again.

But it wasn’t until 2004 that all of our baseball dreams came true.  It felt like a miracle when they won the World Series. It felt like a dream.

It felt like a once in a lifetime experience for everyone who ever loved the Boston Red Sox.

My boys were young back then.  Matt was 14, Tim was only 12.  Kate was a freshman in college, so she wasn’t at home as we suffered through the first three ALCS games against the dreaded Yankees (“The evil empire”).  But the boys were here.  And they were pulled into the crazy magical thinking that went along with each of the wins of that series.

I remember that I had to stop at the grocery store before game 5, and I bought Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread to go with the meatloaf that I had planned.  The Sox won.

We ate Boston Baked Beans and Boston Brown Bread for the next two games.  And the Sox won.

What I had forgotten before today was that at the beginning of the series I had made a simple ground beef dinner.  My kids always had a yearning for sauteed ground beef over noodles.  Whenever I was away overnight, Paul would buy a box of Hamburger Helper, and everyone was happy.  Of course, being the healthy food fanatic that I am, I would gripe and complain and point out the dangers of all of those chemicals.  So I had tried to come up with a healthy, no-preservatives version of “Hamburger Helper” that would make all of us happy.

Apparently, I had made the dinner at some point during the baseball playoffs of 2004.

I had forgotten all about that meal until today, when I thumbed through a notebook of recipes, looking for a lemon cake.   As I turned the pages, passing pancakes, shrimp, Asian meatballs and various cookies, I came to a page that was recorded in my own handwriting.  It described a meal of ground beef, onions, tomato paste and spices.  I had named the dish “Yankee Noodle Dandy”.   But I laughed out loud when I saw the word “Yankee” crossed out, and in Tim’s youthful scrawl, the words “Red Sox” written just above.SONY DSC

Such sweet memories, of my own childhood, and of my children’s.  Such sweet memories of pulling for a team, wishing for something that is so out of our own control.  Of feeling that we are part of a team, a group, a collective of hope.

Go, Red Sox!

Feelin’ the Burn

I am so not an athlete.

I mean, really.  Not. An. Athlete.

For years, when asked what I did to work out, my answer was “Chop, stir, saute and chew.”  I have always hated the gym and everything associated with it.  If I’m going to sweat, I damn well better be on a beach.  If I’m going to feel pain in my muscles, it better be either from giving birth or from rocking a baby.   Exercise for its own sake has always struck me as a complete waste of my precious, precious time.

But everything has changed.

See, I recently developed high blood pressure.  It lasted for a while, so my doctor wanted me to have it checked by a specialist.  And off I went to the cardiology clinic, where I was greeted by the world’s best looking medical specialist.  Warm smile, sexy crinkles next to his sky blue eyes, soft voice, strong hands……Let me just say that when he found my pulse to be on the higher side, the response that leapt to mind was this: “Maybe you should take your hand off my chest.”

So when Dr. Heartthrob (I can’t help it!) told me that I really needed to lower my blood pressure, I felt compelled to try.  In the first place, there is NO WAY I would consider saying “no” to this man.  Ever.  If you get my drift.

In the second place, I would really like very much to live long enough to hold and cuddle my as yet unborn-unplanned-unthought of grandchildren.  Its looking like I need to stick around for quite a while if I am going to reach my goal of baking gingerbread men with my grandbabies.


I have cut way way way down on my salt.  Good bye Romano cheese!  Good bye delicious olives!  I will miss you, anchovies!   I have even cut back on my alcohol consumption.  This is not fun, but without the olives and cheese, its easier to give up the glasses of wine. Sigh.

Worst of all, I have gone out and bought an elliptical machine, which I fondly refer to as “The demon torture machine”.  The first time I climbed on it, I lasted a full 8 minutes before collapsing into a sweaty, shaking mess.

After two months, though, I am now able to walk/glide/push/pedal my flabby old body for 45 full minutes of elliptical blood pressure lowering magic!   Huzzah!

This is the point, according to all of my athletic friends, when I am supposed to be feeling the joy of the burn. I should, theoretically, be cheering myself on, feeling the euphoric endorphin high of the workout and generally loving every minute of my elliptical experience.

Yeah.  No.

Here is the truth of how I feel about working out for 45 minutes at a time, five days a week.

It sucks. It sucks wicked.

Just to get myself on that stupid thing, I have to be able to watch something totally riveting on TV.  Something like “Long Island Medium” or “Psychic Kids” or “The Colbert Report”.  That way I can pedal for what feels like days as I let my mind be absorbed by the show.  I only look at the timer when the commercials come on.

4 minutes and 15 seconds have elapsed.

“What?!  This stupid thing is broken! I am not going to look again until I’m positive ten minutes have gone by!”


“Gah!  My back hurts!  My legs are cramping!  I can’t breathe………”


“I’m thirsty.  I’m hungry.  Don’t look at the timer.  Don’t look at the timer. Don’t look at the timer. (gasp, gasp)

8:31 have elapsed.

“It’s broken!  It’s broken, I tell you!  I’ve been on here for a week!  WAIT!?  Did my heart just skip a beat?  Am I having a heart attack!  OH, MY, GOD!  I’m going to die of a heart attack while I’m doing my cardio routine! Do. Not. Look!”


“This can’t be right.  This can’t be helping!  My butt hurts!  Oh, God, there goes my heart again! I’m sorry, I can’t do this!  I’ll just do 20 minutes, then I’ll lie.  To myself.  Later.”

15:23 have elapsed.

“One third of the way!  But my heart HURTS!  I don’t want to die!  I want to see my kids again! I want to see Paul again!  I want to eat pumpkin ice cream one more time…….pant,pant,pant.”

And this is how it goes for the full 45 minutes.  At no time do I feel virtuous, or strong or euphoric.  Mostly, I feel like I want to kill someone.  Maybe someone with a cardiology degree.  Then I want to lie down and feed myself some cheesecake.

So to all you athletes out there: You are full of crap.  It doesn’t feel good.  It hurts and its all sweaty and stinky and nasty.

To Dr. Heartthrob: If my blood pressure doesn’t go down, and I die in spite of all this suffering and sacrifice, I am so going to haunt you and bother you and give YOU a big old heart attack.

So there.

Past my prime

So I’m thinking a lot about Michael Jordan.

He was the best at his job once upon a time. No one could touch him. He was grace, strength, agility, brains and beauty, all in one big, smiling, championship-winning man.  He was the epitome of basketball perfection.

But then he got kind of tired.  His knees lost some of their spring, his hands lost some of their quickness. His aggressive desire to win dropped back just a bit.   He was done. He retired.

I can so understand that.

We get to a point in our professional lives where we know we are not doing our best. We know that our skills and our finesse and our effortlessly winning ways are beginning to fade into that good night.  We begin to recognize that younger, quicker, sharper shooters are right on our heels, waiting to break our records.  We get a little intimidated, and we back away.

I’m kind of at that point.

I am the once popular, once admired, once successful fifth grade teacher.  I was amazing….once.

But my style of teaching goes back to a time that was way before the attack of the standardized tests.  Try as I might, I can’t quite grasp the concept of frequent, repetitive testing.  I don’t quite have the mental agility to test, teach, retest, teach again, retest and give a score.   I’m sort of stuck in the ancient and outdated world of “Learning how to think.”  I can’t keep up.

I know that there are fresh young faces out there who are gently awaiting my retirement.

Just like Michael Jordan, I am aware of the fact that I am no longer the one who will sell the most shoes.  I realize that I am the object of fond bemusement, as my young colleagues listen to me recalling older days.

But, see……..

These people don’t remember the time when our school was known all around the state for its innovative and creative curriculum.  I do!!  They don’t remember what it was like in the days when our entire staff stood up and protested against the introduction of state wide testing: I was one of those teachers!  They teach in a school building that they take for granted: I remember when we were housed in a building with no hot water, crumbling ceiling tiles and hugely overcrowded classrooms.  I remember holding meetings with town government leaders to show them how desperately we needed a new home. I was there!!!

But what I remember doesn’t matter.  What I did back then has no weight now. None of that has any relevance today.

Michael Jordan remembered Wilt Chamberlain; his successors didn’t. He remembered his rookie year.  Who cared?

Michael held on for too long. He tried to come back after his day was done.  We all watched with a mixture of admiration and pity.

The question for me now is this: how do I find that delicate point? How do I let go and move away when I am still at least somewhat successful, and before I become an object of disdain?

Michael?  Got any advice?

Play ball!

Some things defy definition. They can’t be easily explained. Some things can only be experienced, they can’t be described.

So I won’t try to explain why I am sitting inside the house on a perfect afternoon instead of walking in the woods or gardening under this cloudless sky. I won’t be able to make you understand what it means to me to have TV on, or why I am wiping away the tears that keep coming, one after the other. You probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Instead, let me tell you a story.

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher was a crusty, demanding older woman. She wore tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She read to us every day and she always made us go back and try again when we didn’t know how to solve a problem. She hated noise, and she loved the Red Sox. In May of that year, she took the whole class to a game. I had never been to one before, and had no real expectations. But I still remember coming up from the darkness under the grandstand and stepping into the light. The grass of the Fenway Park infield glowed like a jewel, spread out before me in all its glory. I was breathless.

It was 1967. The Red Sox won in extra innings, and I was in love.

That was the “Impossible Dream” summer, where the Red Sox went from last place to winning the American League Pennant. It was the year of my first crush: Tony Conigliaro, the dashing, handsome young star who was downed by a fastball in August and never recovered.

That incredible summer and its story of impossible dreams was the first time that Boston baseball fans hung banners from buildings and screamed for their team as they arrived at the park.

Since that magical summer, baseball has continued to be the soundtrack of my life. The sweet crack of the bat, the distant calling of the vendors in the stands, the voices of the announcers coming late at night through my transistor radio. Baseball has been there.

For me, baseball has always meant hope: As a Red Sox fan for many lean years, I learned long ago to think “Wait till next year!” and to recognize unfounded optimism rising like maple sap every spring. In spite of past history, there was always hope of victory, hope of triumph, hope of undeserved good luck.

Baseball games were always on in the background as my Dad puttered around the yard on summer days. Baseball games accompanied barbecues and picnics, family vacations and camping trips. Baseball players were my heroes and my secret crushes. Handsome Pudge Fisk, Dewey Evans, Nomar and Captain Varitek.

Baseball means summer. It means youth and strength and unbelievable grace. Baseball, since October of 2004, means magic and crazy rituals to bring luck. It means belonging to a group that is larger than any I’ve ever known, sharing the most intense of emotions with millions of strangers as the Red Sox win and lose. It means always wearing a Sox hat or shirt when we travel, so that we can find other members of our tribe when we are far from home.

Baseball means America in all its innocence and optimism. It means Cooperstown and “Field of Dreams”. The smell of beer and the taste of peanuts. Fingers crossed, rally caps on. Baseball means a link to the past, to the history that we have all shared here in this “new world”.

Today as I sit watching Fenway Park celebrate its 100th birthday the sky is blue and cloudless, the sun is bright, the organ is playing. Time seems to have rolled back as we remember the first pitch thrown out by Honey Fitz, then Mayor of Boston.

On this exquisite afternoon, there are no steroids, no growth hormones, no cheating. Boys play baseball for the joy of the game. America is still the land of opportunity, and anything is possible.

Play ball!