Looking Back

Why couldn’t this have been on a Friday night? Why didn’t the schedulers realize the entertainment value of this debate? Still, I think back over the years and can’t understand how we got here, and yet I understand perfectly how we got here.

Yet how did our family get here?

Ten years ago, we lived in Asheville.

Morning Walk

Fifteen years ago, we lived in Poland.

Lipnica Wielka Parish Church II

And yet that’s just us — the two of us. What matters now is the four of us.

Autumn Sunday

The last Sunday of the month — Polska msza. Among many other things, it means a lazy morning with perhaps a bit of outside time. During the summer, it was the only Sunday we could do much of anything outside because by the time we normally got back from Mass, it was too hot to do much of anything. There was the pool, that’s true, but even that gets a little routine after a while, I guess.

In the late morning, then, L, E, and I headed to the backyard to do some exploring. Our exploring of late is limited, though, by the fact that we have new neighbors whom we rarely see, and I haven’t yet had a chance to ask if they mind us tromping through their backyard. I’m certain they have nothing at all against it, but I still don’t want to do it until we’ve actually discussed it.


That leaves us limited to our own backyard, which we all know perfectly well — harder to pretend-explore there than it was in our neighbors’ yard. I struck upon the idea of tracing the stream that runs through our backyard. We’d waded up the stream one morning this summer, but we hadn’t gone the opposite direction. The Boy was interested; the Girl headed inside.

We followed where it passes under the road and winds through more backyards, but soon we reached a point where we couldn’t go any further. If we had long pants on, we could have braved the weeds and wild for probably another hundred and fifty feet, but not much more than that. Suddenly, the Boy had a question.

“Daddy, what if we’re lost?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if we can’t find our way home?”

I thought of what we’d just done from his forty-some inch perspective and his four-year-old mental development and realized that he might indeed have no idea where we were. I took him back to the road and pointed out the back of our house.


“Oh, neat trick,” he replied.

But could he really not know where we were? I doubt it. He has such an incredible memory for the physical layout of things, where things are located in the house, where things are located in the larger environment.

Once, K told me, they were on their way to Nana’s and Papa’s house in the morning and there was a huge snarl of traffic on the four-lane road we normally take to their place. I’d done some exploring on Google Maps before to map new routes to ride by bike and had discovered a way to cut the corner where the snarl was, and once I’d taken it when I was taking the Boy to Nana’s and Papa’s. E remembered it just as K was contemplating where that road off to the left might go and explained that it was a short cut. Between those two events passed probably several weeks.

So it’s likely that he really wasn’t as lost today as he thought he might have been. It’s possible that he could have figured his way back home. Instead, he just took me by the hand and said, “Daddy, let’s go home.”


I’ve begun a chess club at school. Today was our informational meeting, and around twenty students showed up, including three girls. We set up a meeting schedule — first and third Mondays of the month — and I had them take a little “quiz” to see if they knew how to use algebraic notation, had the instinct to do more than take the “free” pawn in the King’s Gambit, could recognize the next move of the Sicilian Defense, and knew what stalemate means.

One small problem: we don’t have any chess sets. PTSA to the rescue. And as I was talking to someone about how to fill out the paperwork to request the funds, I had an epiphany: why not use chess in the classroom on a regular basis? The benefits are manifold, especially the thought of encouraging such dedicated, focused attention for some period of time, weighting options and making a decision, and overall critical thinking. So with some careful planning, I might actually be able to pull it off.

Coming home, I discovered that the Boy wants to play soccer. A good sign. And out of the blue, he wants to play chess.

Sometimes life gives you zugzwang — a situation in chess in which one player would rather not move but has to move. And occasionally, it gives you the opposite.



We parents wait for it all our lives, I imagine: confirmation that all the teaching we’ve done has somehow taken root and flowered. It comes sometimes in those little notes scribbled on our children’s school papers or comments on report cards. We hear about it from grandparents or neighbors. And then sometimes we see it.


A post-dinner recreation

K arrived home with the Boy from a short trip to the grocery store and the pizza place only to find it had started raining. It wasn’t raining hard enough for me to hear it, so I hadn’t brought in the laundry drying on the back deck. (Truth be told, I wasn’t even aware of it being out there, but that’s an entirely different issue.) K rushed in, pizza in hand, tossed the box on the table and darted out through the back door. “My laundry!” Following a few moments behind, E appeared at the door, shopping in hand, car door closed, struggling mightily with the two bags of groceries.

He’d taken the initiative all by himself.

Coincidentally, one of the words in L’s Polish lesson for the evening was “dżentelmen,” the Polishized spelling of “gentleman,” which has the same denotations and connotation.


In the end, I couldn’t care less about how well he plays soccer. I’m more concerned with how he plays life. And while at the moment he seems destined to be darting around all the action in a soccer game, he seems to be diving right in to life.


The Boy was determined not to play soccer today. “I’m scared!” was the refrain. He didn’t want to get dressed. He didn’t want to leave the house. He didn’t want to get in the car. He didn’t want to get out of the car. But once he was on the field, it was all fine.

His play was better than last week. He ran toward the ball in general, but he often just sort of ran around the edge of the hive of boys and girls kicking madly at the ball, known as four-year-olds’ soccer.

And at home, a bit of badminton.


The Boy comes out of the living room just as I’m headed that way. I jump in front of him playfully and block his way. As he shifts to the other side, I shift along with him, blocking his path. A fuss begins to arise. I lean down and whisper as if I’m keeping it a secret: “Push to this side like you’re going this way, then suddenly jump to the other side and run by.” He does so, then turns back smiling.

Why can’t I remember to turn every potential fuss into a teaching opportunity?


Before school, the Girl decided she wanted to make pan pipes out of straws and cardboard as she discovered in one of her many craft books.

The Boy has fallen in love with experimenting with adding random things from the refrigerator.

Family Match

If the Boy plays Saturday like he was playing today, he’ll be something else. He was going after the ball no matter who had it, attacking toward the net, shooting — everything. We even worked on passing the ball to him for him to shoot even though that’s a guaranteed impossibility for his game Saturday.

But if I think back to the Girl playing soccer, I remember doing things like this and then discovering that none of it would really stick. “Perhaps more practice,” I’d say, and yet it wouldn’t stick. And so what if it doesn’t? He’s only four — that’s the cause of the “problem” and the reason it’s not important.


Candyland is a good first game for the Boy. It’s as boring as can be for the adult playing with him, but that’s often what parenting is all about: getting over the selfishness of boredom and relishing the interaction with the child. At the same time, I remember stacking the deck when playing with L, rationalizing it to myself by saying that I was teaching her to lose gracefully or win humbly. Perhaps I was just not savoring the moment and rushing to get to the end.


Candyland teaches turn-taking and acceptance of the luck. And while I’d like not to be one to suggest that luck has much to do with one’s fate because I’m a tough-minded, right-leaning moderate, I know that’s just bullocks. It’s luck where you’re born; it’s luck what your parents are like; it’s luck whether or not you have a handicap, physical or otherwise. Still, we right-leaning types like to think of bootstraps and such in the land of the free and home of the brave.


The Boy, though, had to add his little touch: the use of cars. If it’s not cars, he’s really not all that interested. Colors are difficult to remember because, well, colors, but vehicles — he can recognize Lamborghinis and campers, excavators and hot rods. But other things — not so much.

K the other night was working with him on Polish prayers, and she recited the traditional guardian angel prayer. After listening to it, he looked at K and said, “You must be kidding! I can’t remember that!”


Perhaps K needs to update it, include a Bugatti or something similar.