Posts Tagged ‘March Madness’

“Lucy means light and additionally (the name) carried extra significance as my maternal grandmother, Lucille, was a spiritual rock in our family, before her untimely death on my birthday in 2009. I loved that the strength of my grandma might have an opportunity to live on in her great-granddaughter and was very pleased when Jaime was the first to suggest that we name her Lucy.”

Our shining star's bright light

Lucy – our shining star’s bright light

Four days before The Amazing Home Birth of Lucy Fisher, amidst a second blizzard in as many weeks during the relentless January snow of 2011, we received a visitor.

I was standing at the changing table situated directly under a window facing our backyard. Perched confidently outside our second floor apartment, overlooking the children’s bedroom, was a breathtaking cardinal against the backdrop of snow. I called the attention of the whole family to come marvel. But it wasn’t just the cardinal’s symbolic beauty amidst the storm that was so captivating, for as in continuing to observe it I felt strongly that it had arrived here on our branches purposefully.

A symbol of beauty amidst continual storm may have been something even more

A symbol of beauty amidst continual storm, this cardinal’s arrival may have been something more

I am not sure I would be able to explain it to a skeptic, but as has occurred to me on previous occasions, I sensed that this particular bird in this exact moment was there specifically for me. That it was present to deliver a message and would be content to remain watching over my household until I received it.

The cardinal stayed long enough that I eventually was compelled to grab the video camera and record it’s appearance. The picture to the right is an actual screen shot from the recording on that winter day. I could not shake the feeling that this sighting was not simply fortuitous but meaningful in some way. I have never been inclined toward interest in animal spirits, but decided out of curiosity to Google possible meanings for the overt arrival of a cardinal.

The first website I found spoke of a cardinal as potentially representing the spirit of a deceased loved one signaling that they are still with you. I immediately thought of my grandmother Lucille, who had very unexpectedly passed away in her sleep two years prior in January 2009 on the birthday I share with her husband Vern.

Grandma Lucy and Vern (or Pops as we called him) had been very formative in my life, despite living some distance from us. It was Pops that gave our family our first computer and Grandma Lucy made a habit out of sending the whole family homemade birthday cards printed on her PC. It was humbling to think that I may have been the last person she wrote to while still alive. After receiving notice of her passing earlier in the day, one of my grandmother’s signature “Lucilove Creations” birthday cards arrived in the mail for me. Inside was a clip art picture of a bursting balloon with text that said, “Popping out of the balloon to wish you a Happy Birthday!” and a handwritten note that read, “Love, G’ma + Pop – thanks for the Holiday picture of your family. – Clara is so cute. –” It was not only a balloon, but our hearts that had indeed been burst.

I had been unable due to finances and work responsibilities to fly out to California to attend her memorial service and regretted that. I felt maybe in some small way that Grandma Lucy was trying to tell me that it was okay. I went and found the birthday card she sent me in order to re-read her last words once more.

It was not until much later upon revisiting that birthday card that I noticed the sticker seal (pictured) my grandmother had used on the envelope and my eyes widened.

Cardinal Stamp

Did the last piece of mail my Grandmother sent before she unexpectedly passed away contain a meaningful sign of things to come?

Maybe it had been my grandmother after all.

This notion was not dispelled at all within me when a few years later, I noticed again on my birthday and the anniversary of her departure that a Facebook friend had unwittingly changed their profile picture to an image of a solitary cardinal perched on a snow covered barren tree branch.

However, it was not until this week that a greater picture started to come into view. My wife was out on a winter walk with the two little ones when a cardinal flew up to them and landed right next to our daughter Lucy, who carries the name of her great-grandmother she was never fortunate enough to meet.

Or had they met?

Was it possible that our blizzard cardinal had arrived in anticipation of our little Lucy just days before her birth? That even before we had decided on her name, Grandma might have known? That perhaps her presence was in some way paying another birthday visit the day before Lucy would turn four years old?

I am not one to put much stock in fortune tellers, mediums and the sort, but I found it strangely compelling when someone very close to us recently paid a visit to a psychic and was told, with no inquiry at all, that my deceased grandmother was watching over Lucy.

And why not?

Jaime and I had often joked that in the transition from two to three children that an extra set of eyes would be helpful. The reality of having three small children within the span of less than three and half years is that you cannot attend to all of them the way you would like. You give it your best shot and pray to God it works out. Is it possible that God in His infinite wisdom and boundless sense of humor may have answered our prayer by letting Grandma Lucy look out for her namesake on occasion?

And if so, what is it that Grandma Lucy has seen?

LucyLove

LucyLove

I imagine she is seeing what the rest of us have been fortunate to experience, a wildly determined yet emotionally sensitive little girl with a heart full of love. Lucy is a scene-stealer in the best sense of the term.

My grandmother was a huge college basketball fan, perhaps she has laughed along with us enjoying every moment of Lucy’s annual March Madness NCAA bracket picks, including “Hot Mexico” in 2013. Maybe it was my grandmother who put in a good word for Shabazz Napier and UConn last year which resulted in our whole family losing to a 3 year old.

The Bracket champ gets to choose the lunch of their choice at the destination of their own choosing. In true Lucy fashion she selected to eat Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches at our local children’s museum Kid City. Even better was the time she won our “Easy A” inspired Family Member of the Week vote and decided we would all eat hot dogs and rice as her celebration meal.

As the third child, Lucy is regrettably and constantly subjected to influences we never would have let our eldest children be exposed to. But as the older kids reach new developmental milestones and as our hands have become increasingly tied, she is most often right there in the mix. Last year as the big kids discovered Star Wars, the result was a phase where Lucy would make her presence known by singing the infamous Darth Vader intro “The Imperial March” followed by mechanical breathing at the dinner table.

She seemed to struggle a bit naturally with the arrival of our youngest Miles. They are 32 months apart, the largest age-gap between any of our four, and I think she enjoyed be the littlest. But her infectious giggle and sharp wit have carved out a place all her own. Just a few months ago she began playing nicely with her baby brother and then remarked to Jaime, “I am not jealous of Miles anymore. I know I am everyone’s favorite!”

Never have we met a more fiercely independent young lady. I have worked with many kids over the years in various capacities and found that the vast majority can be convinced to alter their behavior given enough time and the right approach. Lucy defies the odds. Once she makes up her mind, you will not be able to change it in the interim.

Before she even had teeth she wanted to brush them alone. Just last week she had nearly psyched herself up for a visit to the dentist before changing her mind onsite. I had to hold her straight jacket style against me a week ago, wrapping my legs around the feral beast and holding her jaw open in order to get a halfway decent dental cleaning. To her credit, her oft-independent brushing has yielded no cavities. These tendencies along with her strong joyful passion for dancing through life has earned her the family nickname “Wyldstyle”. photo 2

But be not fooled by her rough exterior. She is a true romantic at heart, magnetized to love stories and dreams of being a princess. Whereas I made a semi-intentional effort to squash some of this in her older sister, I have Let It Go with Lu-Lu and enjoyed watching her be herself. The theme of her four year old birthday party was “Pink.” We decided to play with some Power Rangers action figures the other day and when in character as Troy the Red Megaforce Ranger I asked her Pink Ranger what we should do today, she replied, “Maybe… get married!”

I will have to keep my eyes on her and welcome any assistance from Grandma Lucy in this task.

But ultimately, what I admire most in our little girl is her kind hearted and loyal servant nature. She loves to help Jaime bake in the kitchen. She is so infatuated with her BFF that she goes about re-naming everything in our home “Shianna” in her friend’s honor. She even passed a test of Dumbledore’s earlier in the week.

I recently started reading through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with the kids knowing that my 7 year old bookworm Clara would latch on to the compelling story, and in true fashion Lucy came along for the literary ride, though she would have probably preferred nightly stories about princesses. After we finished reading the book, we rented and watched the movie.

The next morning we ran into a bit of inter-sibling conflict over which show they would like to stream on Netflix while I got ready for the day. Clara and Shepard were arguing over which of their selections should trump Lucy’s desire to watch Strawberry Shortcake. I decided to employ a little Harry Potter parenting and see which of the kids may have been able to internalize one of the major messages of the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I will make no spoiler apologies for a book that will reach the age of adulthood this summer, so as more of a refresher, Harry stumbles upon the Mirror of Erised with an “inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.” Ms. Rowling does not spell it out, but the cryptic inscription when read backwards says, “I show not your face but your hearts desire.” At the climax, Harry uses his familiarity with the mirror to foil the villain and secure the titular Stone, but is somewhat confused as to how he accomplished the feat:

Harry: “How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?”

Dumbledore: “Ah, now, I’m glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that’s saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it.”

Using this little nugget of wisdom I designed a test for my children. I first asked them, “What do you want to watch?” and all three provided their individual answers with no overlap. Next I posed the question slightly altered, “What do you think would be best for you all to watch?” Child One and Child Two maintained that their selections would not be only in their best interest but also for the greater good. Only Lucy deferred her personal preference. Therefore, much to the chagrin of the older siblings, Strawberry Shortcake it was.

Lucy wins again.

My prayer is that my daughter will be able to maintain her fiery independent spirit in balance with her demonstrated ability to sacrifice her own desires for the sake of community.

Grandma Lucy – Any assistance you can offer in helping your namesake and this little light of ours shine along the way is genuinely appreciated.

Lucy wins again!

Lucy wins again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading.

If you are interested in watching Lucy in action, here is a little impromptu interview we did last week recapping life as a 3 year old when Wyldstyle got out of bed reporting she wasn’t “sleepy”:

 

“Sports fandom is a fantastic gift with almost immeasurable value… it’s a proxy for real life but better, it renews itself, it’s constantly happening in real time, there are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t, it’s war where nobody dies, it’s a proxy for all our emotions and desires and hopes. I mean, heck, what’s not to like about sports?”

– Steven Dubner, author of Freakonomics , on the 8-23-11 “Games” episode of NPR’s Radiolab

Sports run in my blood.

Both my parents were collegiate scholarship athletes and long advocated that if I was to afford a postsecondary education at a University that it would have to be on the back of my own athletic full-ride. In the first grade I was bribed to start playing Tee-Ball with a box of unopened baseball cards to begin tapping into my athletic potential. As a third grader in flannel shorts, I started playing in the Boys and Girls Club basketball league. I played sports, both organized and recreationally, throughout childhood, into high school and beyond with some success. But looking back, as much fun as it was to play, I think I was always equal parts athlete and sports fan at heart.

As a kid I played out entire Major League baseball seasons in my front yard using a wiffle ball bat, baseball glove, tennis ball and a box score inspired imagination. I loved going with family and friends to Jack Murphy Stadium hearing “Line Drives and Stolen Bases, Diving Catches, We’re Goin’ Places, C’Mon!” before the announcement of the Padres’ starting lineup. I would constantly beat out the Pistons and Celtics in my driveway for the Larry O’Brien Trophy as I became Magic, Kareem and Worthy. I recall repeatedly chanting “Go, Chargers, Go! 6 and 0!” before climbing into bed as the Bolts got started on their only Super Bowl season in ’94-‘95.

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Sports were more than a pastime for me; they were part of my identity.

It’s been a while since those days. Making the decision to get rid of cable years ago certainly drastically reduced time spent watching sports, but for a good portion of the last decade I still found solace in the box scores. At the end of a long day or when avoiding important tasks, ESPN.com or CBS Sportsline provided a window into another world. A world where “pitchers and catchers report” is synonymous with hope and the Opening Day bunting whispers anything is possible.

I found this to be especially true every time I moved farther away from home. As awful as the Friars have been, without a No-Hitter, a batter hitting for the cycle or a World Series trophy since their inaugural season in 1969, as heartbreaking as the Bolts have been over the past decade with McCree season ending fumbles and Kaeding missed field goals in the playoffs, these were my teams. Checking the scores, reading the game recaps, watching the highlights were all measures of solidarity with friends and family in America’s Finest City.

When Jaime and I were first married I would frequently sit in our Montana apartment literally watching a pitch-by-pitch Gamecast of Padres games on the internet. For non-sports aficionados, this basically entails sitting by yourself waiting for small dots and sentence fragments to appear on the screen and relay what is happening in a game you are not actually watching. Thrilling, no?

In the years to come we would move four times and add four children to our growing family. I slowly came to admit that in my life circumstance, spending significant amounts of solitary time watching other people playing sports was irresponsible when I have a family of my own that needs my limited energy and attention.

Thus, my 2014 New Year’s Resolution was to stop watching sports.

I was not going to stop watching sports because they were evil. I was going to give up watching sports because I had become dependent on them and my addiction had become an evil. If sports were in my blood, then perhaps it was time for a transfusion.

I had also become concerned at the role sports have come to play in our American culture and society. Is it possible that our major sporting leagues and events such as the NFL and Super Bowl are the magician’s wiggling fingers on one hand to draw our attention away from the other covertly covering the severity of our nationalistic xenophobia and military industrial complex?

But as happens with addicts, my inner voice of rationalization was at the ready once treatment had been seriously proposed.

Aren’t sports a great source of recreation and bonding? Sports are a form of social currency – if I give them up, I will lose opportunities for relationship building and a basis for camaraderie. What if my team finally wins after three decades of disappointment? What about the moments that transcend sport such as a reconstructed Drew Brees and the Saints providing a welcome distraction and Super Bowl ring to rebuilding New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina?

I found confirmation of my resolution though when I cracked open theologian Walter Brueggeman’s most recent book and read, “Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’”

I resolved that I was ready for an alternative rest.

I set out some ground rules in hope of getting into balance and having a realistic shot of fulfilling the goal:

#1 I would not watch/follow any professional sports or participate in any corresponding fantasy leagues (including game highlights or reading recaps, box scores or standings)

Note: College athletics would not apply. Not being a college football guy, I spend zero percent of my Autumn Saturdays watching football. However, the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tourney, aka March Madness, is one of my favorite things ever (in large part to my kids bracket picks each year). I agreed I would not watch any regular season NCAA games, but for March and March only, all bets would be off (or should I say on).

Likewise, from the outset I granted myself permission to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as I am not normally a huge Fútbol fan, and the World Cup is both a global and time-limited event.

#2 I could however talk about sports with others, and if others were to inform me of an outcome of a particular game or play, then I would be able to engage in that conversation (Similarly, if someone made a comment on social media about a game that would be fair game – though following teams on Facebook etc. would not be allowed).

# 3 Should there be a good opportunity to hang out with a friend revolving around a sporting event or attend a sporting event live, consideration would be given to allowance of a limited exception to Rule #1.

#4 Playing sports would be allowable under all circumstances

That’s it.

The goals weren’t meant to eliminate sports from my life, just to eliminate my dependence on them.

Test number one came early with the Chargers improbably making the playoffs and scheduled for a first round game at Cincinnati in the first week of January. I got some grief about my decision not to watch, follow or read anything about the game. I did happen to call my brother Eric late in the day just to “see how he was” and found out we had won, but received little additional detail. I was saved any further temptation when San Diego lost the following weekend.

March Madness came and went with my 3 year old daughter Lucy besting the entire family with her bracket picks on the back of a UCONN National Championship. The family winner gets to pick the location and lunch menu of their choice. Lucy went with Peanut Butter and Jellies at the local children’s museum KidCity. Yes, I lost to a toddler and it was awesome.

I didn’t miss much in the Spring with Lakers eliminated from playoff contention by March. Though San Diego State alum Kahwi Leonard apparently reportedly played out of his mind as part of a beautiful Spurs team performance in the NBA Finals that thwarted the Heat attempt at a 3-peat. Maybe I’ll catch it on ESPN Classic someday.

My heart stung a bit not watching on baseball’s aforementioned Opening Day, which should easily outdistance Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday. No qualms not paying attention to the mediocre Padres though. Early in the season Matt Souto came over and started talking baseball. I informed him I wasn’t watching this year, but that after a quarter-century of supporting for the Padres I could probably guess their record. Matt informed me San Diego’s season was 19 games in, I figured that likely meant we would be about 9-10. Nailed it.

My first real Major League Baseball news of the year came as a result of the unfortunate passing of Mr. Padre himself. Tony Gwynn lost his battle to cancer this past June and an entire city and sport fell silent.

The following month it seemed no one was silent as LeBron James announced he would be leaving Miami to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll confess this seemed bigger than sport, a narrative that transcended the NBA into meta-Prodigal Son territory. Four years after making himself a spectacle and a fool with The Decision, the best basketball player in the world was this time quietly making the tough decision, the right decision, to go home to Ohio in an effort to bring a title home to one of the few U.S. cities with a more pathetic pro sports history than San Diego. I followed the story, but there were no games being played so I considered myself in the clear.

Football season rolled around and I backed out of all Fantasy leagues. Since I started playing Fantasy Football back in 2001, I have learned that most often the real Fantasy isn’t the make believe stat-based point system as much as the idea any time invested after the draft is actually yielding deeper relationships with any of the folks your playing with. Competitive juices end up far more likely to bring bad blood than a sense of deeper friendship and thus I signed myself up for a season-long bye from even the family league. I bequeathed my team “Christopher Walken” to my little sister Miranda and did not miss playing. In fact, without Fantasy Football as a distraction I went entire stretches of the season actually present enough with my family and church family that I didn’t even know who the Chargers were playing, let alone if they won. It was liberating. In the meantime, my sister brought more cowbell and won the league title in her first attempt.

In the end, it turned out to be the Kansas City Royals that made me officially relapse.

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League!

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League upholding the legend of Christopher Walken!

 

My good friend Nathan Miller’s favorite team, the Royals told a story too good not to follow as summed up in an article entitled, “These Royals Make You Believe in God” by Angela Denker. Ms. Denker wrote “It’s been said that sports are America’s religion and that this idolatry is our downfall. Maybe that’s true when the Yankees win the pennant or the Patriots take the Super Bowl. But when the Royals win the Wild Card and play in October for the first time in 29 years, Jesus smiles back at George Brett and James Shields. Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from.”

Making their first postseason appearance in nearly three decades, I read the KC playoff box scores, watched the highlights, changed my Facebook profile picture, and basically broke all my rules. I did everything short of contacting Nathan directly because you don’t jinx a no-hitter in progress by talking about it and up until the World Series, the Royals went a perfect 8-0 in the Postseason. Their magical run finally ended with a runner on third in a one-run loss in Game 7. Despite not taking the crown, the Royals were my sports story of the year. Nathan summed up the journey nicely, “If you would have told me in March the Royals lost game 7 of the ‪#‎WorldSeries, I would have kissed you on the mouth. ‪#‎CelebrateNoMatter Thank you ‪#‎Royals

If new General Manager A.J. Preller’s aggressive offseason moves pay off in similar fashion for the Padres in 2015, I’ll be in a kissing mood myself.

In the end, I almost made it a year.

Seems I can’t get sports out of my blood entirely after all. But I do feel more in balance and that the progress made in addressing my dependency on sports was a step in the right direction for our family.

On deck?

A big league challenge to outsmart a growing dependence on my smart phone.