Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
A work ethic could come in handy
by Mark Ball
A solid work ethic is a true virtue. Even as they spoiled me, my parents somehow managed to implant a strong desire to work inside of me. My first job was paperboy at age 14, and I’ve never not worked since then.
It is like I wear a long work week as a badge of honor. Thankfully, my wife and my children are endlessly patient and forgiving with me. But then there are moments in which, maybe even unwittingly, they jar me back into an understanding of what is truly important.
My most recent reality check came as we experienced a rash of birthdays at the Ball house over the last month. Molly, our eldest, became even older hitting the big 11. Following suit, my first boy turned 10. Our baby girl turned four the next day and the baby, baby will celebrate his first birthday on Monday.
It has been a blur of birthday cake, presents and family get togethers. More than a couple times during this recent string, Leslie has caught me checking the time, and planning my exit strategy to get back to work. There is just so much to do.
Wanting me to spend some uninterrupted time with Riley, our new 10 year old, Leslie bought tickets for me, Riley and two of his buddies to go to a Razorsharks basketball game. So, Sunday the boys loaded into the back of the van and we were off on our guycation. We weren’t even all the way out of the driveway when I was struck by just how much I had been missing.
Who knew that 10-year-old boys were the funniest people in the world?
As soon as they were buckled in side-by-side-by-side they began a conversation that never ended all the way to the restaurant, through lunch, to the arena, through the game and until the last one was dropped off back at home.
Who knew that 10-year-old boys know a little bit about absolutely everything?
I believe it was ninjas. Yep. Ninjas were the first topic of discussion, which rolled nicely into Disney pre-teen dramas. After catching up on plots to shows that I can’t believe are even real, they went into wireless internet service and which one based on the commercials was probably the best. From there it was remedies for dry skin, ultimate fighting and plans for life after college.
One will win the lottery. One will own a sports franchise. One will go into community service, although he knows there isn’t a lot of money to be had in that field.
The three-way conversation never broke, never slowed down, never even paused to come up for air.
Who knew that 10-year-old boys were this great to spend an afternoon with?
I didn’t. But now I do.
And I hope I can remember that a strong work ethic can come in handy when you have a house full of children who all have so much to share.
Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
Boy and his dog not easily separated
by Mark Ball
As a dad there is nothing worse than breaking your little boy’s heart. Check that … there is nothing worse than breaking his heart and then re-breaking it while dumping salt directly into any residual open wounds.
Sounds pretty bad… huh? Well, the dog made me do it. Seriously!
Buster, a wiener dog with attitude, came into our lives under fairly unusual terms. We were not looking for a dog. We have had Otis (the world’s most perfect dog) ever since Molly, our eldest child, was born. So, we were not in the market for another dog. We are a one dog family – and truth be told – I’d prefer a fish.
But one hot summer day Buster waddled into our lives. It wasn’t even as much a waddle as it was a stagger and then a collapse. I encountered him sprawled in front of the door of the school where I work. Being generous, Buster was not in the best of shape. The sizzling sun was having its way with him and it appeared as though his last meal had been a long way off. He could barely lift his head off of the concrete.
We took him to the vet. He had no collar and no identification. We walked him around the neighborhood, but nobody claimed him, and so Buster waddled back to our house. Over the next several months he ate himself back into shape, a really round shape. As the pitiful faded from his face, the annoying really began to shine through.
He had a pea size bladder and little motivation to spare our carpets.
He had an unquenchable hunger that would strike at all times of the day and night.
He had a distinct and pungent odor that was best suited for the great outdoors.
He had a knack for positioning himself precisely under my feet at exactly the wrong time.
As much as these attributes disturbed me, they were endearing to my son, Riley. He was a big Buster fan. And so time after time I chose to hold my nose and look the other way until – Buster became a dog with little patience for our newest little children, and then he had to go.
Much to Riley’s chagrin we advertised a wiener dog free to a good home. And by “good” we meant any home that could tolerate a spoiled, smelly, needy wiener dog.
The first real candidate was a farm family from Marion. Lots of land, open sky and lovely folks. They met me and Buster in a park out in Webster and were instantly attached to him. Meeting them made a difficult decision feel good, at least for me. For Riley, however, there would be months of mourning the loss of his four legged friend.
As tough as it was, over time the pain did begin to numb, and eventually Riley forgave us. That was until we decided to break our little boy’s heart all over again.
A few weeks ago, Leslie made the decision that we needed to purchase a van large enough to fit our newly expanded family. With seven children, our standard minivans no longer hauled the whole tribe. So we began looking on the internet and at local dealerships for 12-passenger vans.
We looked at many vans, even considered a few small buses. Our search taught us that the best deal would be had by buying a used van from a private owner. So we hit the road visiting one home after the next.
Leslie connected with a nice woman out in Marion. Having exhausted most of our local options we decided to spend a Sunday afternoon making the trek. We split the kids between both vans and headed out. After what seemed like a half day of driving we arrived at our destination and turned down a long, winding driveway. When we reached the end of the driveway, we recognized that we were parked at a quaint little goat farm. We helped the kids out and circled the van. The nice woman and her husband came out to greet us and share information about the vehicle.
As we were chatting, I noticed a rust-colored flash out of the corner of my eye. In unison, our kids yelled, “Buster!” There he was in all his four-legged splendor, renewed, rejuvenated and clearly enjoying life on the farm.
As we looked down at him, it was as if we were staring at a ghost. The unexpected reunion was too much for Riley to handle. He called to Buster again, but his new family quickly jumped between Riley and the dog.
“His name is Woodsy now,” the woman corrected.
Just as quickly as Buster Woodsy came back into our lives, the nice farm family became visibly uncomfortable with this bizarre coincidence. They soon lost interest in selling us their vehicle and instead became preoccupied with making sure that our return trip was dog-free.
It took many apologizes repeated throughout our drive home to convince Riley to forgive us – again.
Buster may have weakly waddled into our hearts, but this strange reunion proved that he wouldn’t be leaving Riley’s heart again without a fight.
Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
Dripping wet proof that details matter
by Mark Ball
Does anyone know a subtle way to suggest to my wife, Leslie, that she needs to stop stressing about each and every detail? I thought about sneaking a copy of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” onto her pillow, but I’m sure she would dismiss it when she realized that the author is a man.
In Leslie’s world there is always assigned seating. Every child is wearing a matching outfit at all times. The day is scripted methodically by stringing together a bizarre series of routines from early morning to 7:35 p.m. bedtime. There is a proper place for everything, and failure to return something to its rightful place is punishable by court martial.
There isn’t a detail in our family’s day that Leslie hasn’t considered. There isn’t a plan that gets approved without first reviewing plans B and C. Our home is run with more attention to detail than some nuclear power plants.
I know she has a problem. I’ve just been waiting for the right time to show Leslie that she can relax a little bit.
And last Saturday presented the perfect opportunity.
Leslie was doing her early morning review of our family calendar. I watched as she read and then re-read the activities for the day. She turned her head slightly sideways and scanned it one more time before taking a step back to make an official pronouncement.
“We just can’t do it,” she said.
“Can’t do what?” I asked.
She explained that our two oldest children had music lessons followed by a basketball game that was happening at the same time child No. 3 and child No. 4 had swimming lessons.
“I really need to be at music lessons today, and swimming is way too complicated for you to handle,” she explained.
Too tough for me to handle? Did I just hear her correctly?
“I’ll be fine,” I responded with booming confidence. “The only reason you think this is so difficult is because you obsess about every little detail of everything.”
That may sound like a harsh response, but my teaching style is to catch people off guard to get their attention and then the wise professor works his magic. By the stunned look on her face, I could tell class was now in session.
“Just relax! You worry way too much about every little detail,” I continued. “I’ll take Sadie and Jonah to swimming and it will be a breeze. You have nothing to worry about.”
The last word wasn’t completely out of my mouth, and Leslie had already packed up the two eldest and the remaining children leaving me No. 3 and 4 and the baby.
As the door closed behind them, a brief panic started to set in.
Was she really leaving me all alone to handle this? What exactly do kids wear when they swim? Should I be packing other… I don’t know… other stuff?
Then it hit me. I was falling into Leslie’s trap. I wasn’t going to allow myself to drown in the details. I was resolved not to sweat the small stuff.
I let Sadie pick out a swimsuit while I packed Jonah’s things. I saddled up the baby and walked my two soon-to-be-swimmers to the car. When we arrived at the pool, I was greeted by a sea of swimming moms. A couple of them offered their support when they realized that I was without Leslie.
“Would you like me to help Sadie get ready?” one of the kind mothers asked. Another offered to hold the baby.
“No thanks!” I dismissed them with a nod, knowing that I was more than prepared for this moment.
I pointed Sadie in the right direction and walked Jonah into the locker room. I helped him get his suit on and then pushed him out the door toward the instructor, while taking my place within the crowd to gaze upon our precious little ducklings.
Splash…splash…splash one after the other dropped over the edge and into the pool. Jonah and Sadie joined their friends in the water. My angel Sadie, like the trained seal that she is, took off swimming all the way to the barrier and back to the edge swimming laps around many of the other newbies.
I could just feel the mob of mothers looking at me and thinking “Wow… he’s a great dad.” And I was thinking to myself, “They are so right!”
As I stood against the wall, my chest puffed out with pride, I started to craft my next teaching moment with Leslie. I’d be able to use today as an object lesson to show her just how enjoyable life can be when we don’t have to micromanage every moment, when we are freed from the details.
As I contemplated the proper tone for my dissertation (not too haughty, but still brazenly confident), Sadie grabbed the edge of the pool and pulled herself up onto the deck. The top of her suit hung about navel high and as she smiled ear to ear at me she flashed everyone seated on the bleachers. As I surveyed the scene I realized that Sadie had packed a suit that was not her size.
This was one detail that I probably shouldn’t have overlooked. As she stood there dripping and smiling, my mind was racing with how I would respond when Leslie found out. Time has taught me that Leslie always finds out. I ran to Sadie with a towel for shelter. As we walked back to the locker room I explained to her that there are some tidbits from our time together that Mommy wouldn’t need to hear about. You know, stick to the big stuff.
But at least for today, swimming lessons showed that my theory on ignoring the details was all wet.
Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
Game night is back
by Mark Ball
Just the other night I was finishing up some work while sitting at the kitchen table. When I lifted my head to gaze into outer space, my eyes locked with my wife, Leslie, who was in our bedroom holding our 3-month-old son. There is no image on Earth as kind and gentle as a mother soothing her baby. But for some reason this perfect picture is now a little unsettling for me.
Could it be because this is the same woman who would rather take my last dollar than forego her reckless shopping sprees? Is it because this is the same attentive mother who just the night before was okay with evicting two of her little children onto the streets to fend for themselves? Or, was it because as we locked eyes, I couldn’t help but recall the cold and heartless stare that recently dismissed my pleas for some token of mercy?
That’s right. Game Night is back at the Ball house, and Leslie is hooked on Monopoly.
The idea behind Game Night was to encourage quality family time. No working. No television. No video games. No leaving to spend time with friends. We were to all meet around the table and bask in the glow of uninterrupted, glorious family time. We had weeks of UNO, some memory game with plastic farm animals, and even Chutes and Ladders. Our family laughed together, encouraged one another, and shared highlights from our day as we played these games.
And then one night, unwittingly, Molly brought Monopoly up from her room. As she slid the long rectangular box across the kitchen table the front door flew open and a chilling breeze danced through the room. All the lights in the house dimmed and then flickered for a brief second. For some reason, I was the only one who noticed these omens.
Next thing I knew, I was holding the little iron dog in my hand, the counterfeit money was all passed out and Leslie had already purchased Baltic Avenue. As the kids got used to rolling the dice and counting out their spaces, Leslie purchased a railroad system and was eyeing Marvin Gardens. As Riley tried to share a cute story about summer camp, Leslie purchased an entire block. With one more roll of the dice she was building neighborhoods and collecting ridiculous fines from her family when we accidently landed on her imaginary property.
There wasn’t the laughter in the air like on previous game nights. Instead, when my little metal dog was taken away to jail, Leslie belted out a callous cackle. As she pulled more and more money away from her once beloved children, a demonic red glow lit up her eyes. She wiped all of us out, and when we were all out of money, I began to get nervous what she would demand of us next.
“Hey kids, time for bed,” I suggested, to get them out of the room safely.
“Riley still has a property!” Leslie shrieked.
In a moment of unabashed heroism, I crashed my little dog into Leslie’s top hat to create a diversion, allowing me just enough time to usher the kids out of the kitchen and into the safety of their bedrooms. As I secured their doors, I heard the baby crying.
Could she really be forcing him to draw a card from the Community Chest? Please God tell me that our sweet baby boy hasn’t landed on one of her apartments!
As I stepped back into the kitchen, I saw that the game had been put away. Leslie was sitting at the table kissing and cooing and singing to our baby. Her once red, beady eyes had faded and a warm, nurturing aura had emerged. From Boardwalk to Park Place there is no place I’d rather be than at home with my family.
Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
It’s parade time for Family Guy
by Mark Ball
So, did you catch the parade last night?
No. Not the one where they throw out candy. No. Not the one with big, bright and shiny fire trucks. There was no long line of sparkling emergency vehicles, but if it went by your house you would swear that there were many sirens, and you might spot a clown or two.
I’m talking about the latest adventure in the Ball house -- family walks.
Back when the last snow melted, my wife Leslie announced this summer’s challenge. The Ball family will focus on fitness by walking ourselves into greater shape. To provide a visual focus, Leslie posted a big sticker chart on the wall to track our progress.
The program is simple. Ten walks equals ice cream for the whole crew. Simple enough in theory.
However, theory gave way to harsh reality sometime back in November when we welcomed two new boys into our home ages 2 and 4. These special arrivals have fit in with the Ball team right away while giving us a formidable quadruple threat. In addition to the original two, Molly (10) and Riley (9), we now have weebles ages 2, 3, 4 and 5.
We are a house full of love. Everything here is fun, but nothing is easy. Dinners are major productions. Getting dressed in the morning needs to begin days in advance. Bedtime looks like an industrial assembly line. So going for a walk around the block … well, it’s no walk in the park.
On a parade night Leslie begins giving an overview of the route while everyone is still seated at the dinner table. Eavesdropping on her pre-walk directions, a concerned neighbor might think we are planning an attack.
“In exactly 10 minutes we will be exiting through the garage. You cannot, I repeat cannot, go it alone. Pair up people and don’t desert your partner! When you reach the sidewalk, make an immediate 90 degree turn left. Let’s move it people, double time!”
The execution isn’t quite as precise as the directions she gives. Somewhere between the garage door and the sidewalk, the pairings separate and it becomes obvious that not everyone is prepared for the mission. One has their shoes on the wrong feet. One has their shirt on backwards. One is wearing high heels, and we tell him that they won’t be comfortable for the walk.
Once their equipment is adjusted we mobilize and begin the walk.
“Two in the front. Two in the back. Two in a stroller. Now, let’s roll!”
We get almost three doors down before Leslie decides we need a formation change. The first pair aren’t getting along and the last two are sitting down.
Mom adjusts the troops and we are back in motion. Now one of the stroller riders is clamoring for the sweet freedom of walking. We quickly switch a marcher with a rider. As we reach the stop sign, almost five houses away from home base, the dreaded walk-killer occurs.
“I’ve got to go potty!” the three-year-old announces, which sets off an amazing chain reaction of bladder emergencies. When their requests to turn back are denied, serious crying ensues. First one siren sounds. Then the next. And finally a shuddering cry can be heard, which Leslie soon realizes is me.
“Okay, back home!” Leslie shouts as she announces the end to another less-than-a-block parade. Neighbors seated on their porches cheer and wave as we pivot and turn back. Once through the door, Leslie proudly places a sticker on the chart. One short parade for the neighbors, one giant step toward ice cream for the Ball family.
Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
New significance to the annual Easter Egg Hunt
by Mark Ball
I have a renewed interest in the Easter Egg Hunt.
Every year my family gathers at my parents’ home to share Easter joy, delight in some delicious food and engage in a never ending search for plastic eggs. For several years now, I’ve questioned the need for the great egg race. Quite honestly, haven’t we outgrown this tradition? Isn’t there a video game version of this experience? Wouldn’t it be better just to review last year’s tape?
On more than one occasion we have been out sifting through the snow in search of plastic gold as the kids sit inside with their little mitts wrapped around a steaming cup of hot chocolate. There was also the year that my mother (official egg hider from the beginning of time) totally forgot where she hid the eggs. We spent hours canvassing the neighborhood on an egg search and rescue mission. One year a band of ninja squirrels broke through the protective plastic coatings and robbed each egg of its chocolate fortunes.
And throughout the years there has been much, much crying. Shorted of their fair allotment of eggs, the slowest child each year dissolves into tears. Frustrated by a fruitless search, more than one child has succumbed to a tantrum. In true disclosure, I have shed my share of tears just waiting for the monotonous searching to end.
But this year will be different, because it has to be. I will live in the moment before the moment hops away.
Molly, our oldest, just turned 10. Nobody shared with me that this was the birthday in which your beautiful child is replaced by an identical alien.
I haven’t understood anything Molly has said following the clock striking on her first-ever double digit birthday. Instantly the world began staring at her. Picking the perfect outfit became a matter of international significance. She flips through five moods before breakfast. A pink streak has even appeared in her hair! And whatever I say to her is wrong – dead wrong.
To make matters worse, her mother totally understands her.
I found this out last week when Molly had me actually speaking in tongues over a fashion feud. Molly had made the decision to cancel school because her clothes didn’t match. I explained that this decision would likely need to be made in consultation with the principal. She pointed out the error of my thinking (meaning: stop thinking and get out of my way). I did my best to put this situation into perspective (meaning: get over the clothes crisis, nobody else cares).
It was clear to anyone around that I was losing ground quickly.
That’s when Super Mom stepped in. She validated Molly’s concerns. Leslie shared legends of her childhood that pitted her against mean, judgmental girls and clueless parents. They bonded over their individual war stories. Then they worked together to develop a reasonable plan.
I opened the door for them as Molly went off to school and Leslie went off to work. Opening the door was the only helpful thing I did that whole day, my only successful interaction since my baby girl has become a 10 year old.
As a result, this year’s Easter Egg Hunt is looking a whole lot better.
Go hide the plastic eggs and I will happily hop around. I don’t care if they are under snow. I don’t care how far I must go. I’m okay if you hide them here or hide them there. I’ll chase after them anywhere!
From here forward, I will just be thankful for these few moments in time in which everyone acts like a kid.
Westside News Inc’s Family Guy
Does love have a timeline?
by Mark Ball
As I walked the card aisle searching for the perfect Valentine, I started reminiscing about my courtship with Leslie. It seems like it was over in the blink of an eye.
We dated for six months, were engaged for six months, got married and then all that silly romantic stuff took a back seat to the wild adventures of life together with a house full of kids. I can remember going to my parents to tell them that I planned to pop the question. They were excited for me and pleased with my pick, but they asked the question, “Are you moving a little too fast?”
“No!” I responded with confidence, but as I sat back on their couch for a moment to catch up on other news in the world, I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was I moving a bit too quickly?
Not a chance. I jumped up off the couch, headed right for the phone and dialed my soon-to-be mother-in-law. I stuttered my way through asking for her blessing on my proposal. She shrieked, and then there was an awkward pause. Finally, she spoke again.
“What’s her middle name?” she asked.
My puzzled look must have communicated clearly through the phone.
“You can’t be ready to marry her if you don’t know what her middle name is,” she explained.
How ridiculous! How insulting! Of course I knew the middle name of my beloved soon-to-be bride.
“Ummm… hmmmm… ummmmm,” I filled time while my head raced to think of her middle name. Does she really have a middle name? Is this some riddle that her mother had been planning since her birth? Finally, her middle name danced through my brain.
“Ummmm… Ann?” I said as if I was asking an uncomfortable question.
“You got it. I know you two will be happy together. Congratulations,” she answered.
Who can set a timeline on when true love is true? For my mother-in-law it was the middle name test that determined a perfect match. But for our children, how will I know when is the right time to give my blessing?
Sadie, our 5-year-old, was barely even walking when we realized that she would be that child. You know, the child you love dearly but you swear that if she had been born first you would have thanked God for giving you all that you could handle.
One summer afternoon I was sitting at the kitchen table going through a stack of work when Leslie came through the door holding tightly to Sadie’s hand. They took a few steps together toward me then Leslie stopped and firmly guided Sadie in my direction.
“Go ahead and tell Dad what happened,” Leslie guided.
Sadie’s head dropped straight down and her hands folded discreetly behind her back.
“What’s going on, Dear?” I asked trying to coax out a confession.
“I accidentally fell today at daycare,” Sadie said with a sniffle.
My jail warden stare softened up as I replaced it with a genuine look of concern.
“Are you okay, Sweetie?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Well then, that’s all that matters,” I concluded in a happy, family sitcom kind of way.
Sadie’s head popped back up in relief and she started up the stairs to her bedroom. She didn’t even get her foot on the first step, when her mother’s cold-as-ice voice chimed in.
“Tell him where you fell,” she led with all the cunning of a prosecuting attorney.
“On another boy’s lips,” Sadie said as her head dropped again and her legs scurried her up the stairs and into the safety of her room. I looked to Leslie for clarification.
“Twice!” is all Leslie said.
Apparently when confronted by a teacher for sharing uninvited affection with one of her classmates, Sadie explained that her sneaker got caught in a crack of the sidewalk propelling her forward and into the arms of a preschool prince. The kind and caring teacher went with Sadie’s explanation the first time, but the second coincidental love fall was a little hard to believe.
Our night ended with a talk about how it was too early in her young life to share such serious affection with a friend.
“But Daddy,” she protested while batting her eyelashes.
Try as she might, I was not hearing it. After all, she doesn’t even know the boy’s middle name.
Westside News Inc’s Family Guy
Hero is born with Christmas tree hunt
by Mark Ball
New Year’s Eve afternoon, with the children down for a nap, Leslie and I sat together on the couch reminiscing about the five days of family celebrations and rehashing the Christmas that almost wasn’t.
Hero is an often overused word, but not in my home and especially not in reference to the man of the house. While Leslie didn’t come right out and say it, as we sat there one last time basking in the multi-colored glow of the tree lights, I think we both knew.
I saved Christmas.
That may seem like a pretty strong proclamation, but can you imagine pulling the presents out from underneath a table? Can you imagine hanging the candy canes with care on a coat rack? What if the thousands of handmade ornaments with photos of the family dog, and lop-sided snowflakes had nowhere to be on display?
That’s right. For the first time in Ball family history, I got the tree.
My New Year’s resolution got off to a December start as I pledged before Leslie and the kids that I will be more capable in 2012. I will contribute to whatever it is that happens in our home. The tree was just the start of a whole new me.
A friend generously offered us the opportunity to select a tree from the hundreds that he has planted in his back yard. I met him on my day off and he drove me in his tractor back through his Christmas tree farm. We walked up and down each aisle, and I looked from the bottom to the top of each tree as if I was performing some type of military inspection.
Leslie has been on tree duty for the first decade of our marriage. Many times she has handled this project considerably pregnant and with kids in tow, so I assumed that this would be no major feat. However, I was surprised to find out that real trees don’t come already in the stand or decorated, and so I learned this would be part of my challenge.
After a thorough review of all trees green, I picked the perfect one. I knew I had selected well because as soon as I pointed at it, our friend cut it down. He helped me load it on the tractor and when we returned to his driveway, he helped me secure it in the van.
Once home I dragged the tree through a side door and into the living room. I was determined to have it up and decorated before Leslie got home from work. As I pulled it across the carpet, the real weight of the tree was starting to sink in as my adrenaline from my first ever tree kill was beginning to wear off.
With both hands and all of my effort, I attempted to hoist the tree into its upright position. About three quarters of the way there I ran into a major snag. The tree, now standing at about a 75 degree angle was perfectly wedged between the floor and ceiling. For the first time in this entire adventure, my eyes were opened to the fact that I had brought home a massive tree – a tree that it appeared would never fit into our home.
Its branches stretched almost the entire width of our living room, covering a couch and our entertainment stand and it was too tall to even come close to standing up straight.
Fear set in as I looked at the clock and realized that Leslie was due home in two hours. I did the only sane thing a man in my dire position could do. I called Mom. Hearing the panic in my voice Mom dropped what she was doing and drove over immediately. As she came through the kitchen and got her first glimpse of the tree, Mom’s face said it all.
“Oh, honey,” she said.
“I know. It’s a little big. What can I do?” I asked.
“Take it outside and decorate it this year. Or give it to a friend with a bigger house,” Mom said as she hurried out the front door and ran to her car.
Neither option was acceptable to me. And so I went to work. I tackled the monstrous tree back down to the living room floor and pulled it back out into the garage. I grabbed a saw and cut about three feet off of the trunk. Then I propped the giant evergreen back up, grabbed hedge clippers and circled the tree about 1,000 times chopping with every step. When the dizziness of my tree attack became too great to withstand, I put the clippers down. In total, two-thirds of our Christmas tree now lay in pieces on the garage floor.
This time, the tree made it back into the living room without much of a fight. I put the tree skirt around the base and pulled the house back together before Leslie and the kids came through the door.
They’ll never know how close we came to having a tree-less Christmas. I’m too big of a hero to share the gory details and there is no need to scare the wife and kids. Needless to say, I’ve already started to hide the Easter eggs to avoid another stressful holiday.
Westside News Inc’s Family Guy
Man of the house gets things fixed …
by Mark Ball
There is a sad hush that falls over the house whenever something breaks. With all the seriousness of a funeral service, our children, from youngest to oldest, drop their heads in a respectful bow as their mother administers final rites.
“It was a good closet door while it lasted. It served our family well. For years clothes were protected behind its mighty shield.”
If you are quiet long enough, “Taps” can be heard echoing in the distance. The children salute as Leslie and I march by them gently transporting the wounded door out to the road to be rescued by another loving family who has someone who knows how to fix things.
We’ve come a long way in 10 years. We used to play a game where everyone would pretend like I was going to somehow repair whatever was broken.
“Dad! The upstairs sink is clogged!”
Hearing a child’s cry for help I would spring into action. First, I would go out to the garage and grab Leslie’s toolbox. Then I’d march back in, and trudge confidently up the stairs. I’d take out the tape measure and check the circumference of the sink. I’d pull out a hammer and bang it on the floor a few times to give the illusion that progress was being made. Finally, I’d pull all sorts of random tools out of the box and catch glimpses of my profile in the bathroom mirror as I pretended to use each implement in the way I imagined that it was made to be used. After all of my “work” was done I would come back down the stairs triumphantly with chest puffed out declaring victory.
When the next child went up and realized that the sink was still clogged, I’d blame them for somehow reversing my fix. It really always seemed like a victimless crime.
That’s not to say some people didn’t react emotionally to my charade. My father-in-law, who is a handy guy and a contractor by trade, took my disability especially hard. I can still remember the sorrow mixed with disgust on his face a few years ago when he presented Riley with his first tool set one Christmas morning. I think it was then that he first realized that my condition was far worse than the family had first feared.
Riley ripped the paper away and was overjoyed to uncover a box of shiny tools. He held up a hammer, a saw and several other sharp and pointy objects. Leslie’s Dad enjoyed taking in the glow of his grandson’s face, but his glee turned sour when he noticed the glazed-over look on my face. He could tell that I had no clue what to do with any piece of Riley’s present. Suddenly he whipped his head around the living room noticing the recliner with one arm, the window with the screen stuck in the up position and the entertainment stand that was missing a door and the opposite handle. Everything became clear.
He gently pulled the toolbox out of Riley’s hands. With a half apologetic tone he suggested alternate storage for this present.
“It’s probably best if we keep this one at Grandpa’s house. You can use them when you come to visit.”
Sure, it is tough the first time your daughter takes her bike to Grandma to get the chain put back on. It even stings a little when your wife throws out a lamp just because the bulb blew.
However, over time I have picked my spots. With more than a few success stories, I have won back much of my family’s faith in me as king of the castle and righter of all wrongs. Just this morning, Leslie told me that the toilet was clogged. Then she handed me the phone book with the correct page marked, and the phone already dialed and ringing. As the person on the other end answered the phone she even placed a credit card in my other hand.
Without even breaking a sweat, I used my deft communication skills to call in the cavalry. Once I clarified the situation, I hung up the phone, walked out into the garage and placed the phone book back into my new toolbox.
I’m the man of this house, and yes, I get things fixed.
Westside News Inc’s Family Guy
… She silently mouthed the word BEAR …
by Mark Ball
As the driver nodded with a smile, the door swung shut and the bus rolled away, a tear rolled down my right cheek. No, this wasn’t the first-day-of-school blues. It was the relief of knowing another camping season was finally behind us. I had lost faith that this day would ever come.
For the record: I love my family. I love spending time with my family. But with one more camping trip like our last one I would be switching my identity in some type of witness relocation program.
Leslie thought it would be a great idea to go camping in the Adirondacks. I agreed. After all, as a kid I spent many summers in Old Forge sliding down water slides, playing miniature golf and going to the arcade. Old Forge is fun for the whole family.
Interesting geography fact: Did you know that the Adirondacks are more than just Old Forge? Did you know that there are many locations throughout this mountain range where you won’t see little ice cream shops, or big, colorful statues of lumber jacks?
We drove and drove and drove well beyond anything Leslie and I could remember thinking back to our childhood fantasies. Six hours later, we rolled into our campground, anxious to get the kids out of the car and eager to get our camper set up for the night. Leslie pulled the van over and went into the main office to announce our arrival. The five minutes that she was gone, felt equal to our quaint six hour ride because by this time the children had reached their boiling point. Now they were kicking and scratching and whining and crying. I focused intently on my book trying to zone them out.
Leslie got back in the car and I noticed that her complexion was much paler than when she had gone in.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
She silently mouthed the word BEAR.
I whipped my head all around trying to find the monster. Seeing nothing but trees, I turned back to Leslie and shrugged my shoulders. She took a folded up piece of paper out of her pocket and discreetly placed it on my lap. Leslie tried to distract the children while I scanned the paper. There was a statement at the top followed by a long list of rules ending with Leslie’s signature at the bottom.
Basically, the note said, “We have so many killer bears in this park it is unlikely that everyone in your family will make it out alive.” The 20 different rules that followed were ridiculous ideas of how to feel safe in the middle of imminent danger. At the bottom, Leslie signed near the line that said, “I promise not to hold a grudge if in the event of this ill-fated camping trip my husband is devoured by a bear.”
I looked up to see tears welling in Leslie’s eyes. She looked to me for direction.
“Well it sure looks beautiful here,” I said cheerfully, smiling at each child. “Let’s get on back to our camp site.”
Leslie drove timidly forward. Quickly the paved road gave way to a gravel path, which disintegrated into a winding dirt strip as we drove deeper and deeper into endless woods.
“Are you sure we are going the right way?” Leslie asked.
I looked up from my book.
“Well we were supposed to make a left back there,” I said.
“How do you know that?” Leslie asked.
“The woman told me,” I answered.
“What woman?” she questioned.
“The woman on our GPS,” I said.
“Honey, she can’t really help us at this point,” Leslie answered.
So we kept winding our way through the enchanted forest until finally we reached our destination. It was a 10 foot by 10 foot plot of land perched on the absolute edge of a cliff high above the small mountain lake.
“We’re here!” I shouted, getting the kids riled up again. “Yeah! We’re here!”
Leslie dropped her head and now the tears were splashing down onto the dashboard. Her chin quivering she whispered, “We can’t stay here. This is just too dangerous.”
I rummaged through my bag of tricks to throw out as many positive statements as I could think of.
“Well, I’m so glad we were able to see this gorgeous country!”
“At least we can tell people that we’ve been here!"
“Kids… was this a great drive, or what?”
As hard as I tried all of my wit and wisdom tumbled one at a time off of the extremely high and treacherous cliff, where we were supposed to park our camper, straight below to their demise.
After just nine jerky maneuvers Leslie had the van and the camper turned around and headed out of the park. We drove straight through the pitch black night sky for many more hours on end until we made it to a Quality Inn about 90 minutes from our home.
Instead of a campfire, we gathered around a Denny’s grand slam that night. After a midnight dinner we walked back to our room and tucked our four cherubs into one queen-sized bed. Leslie and I collapsed into a pile in the adjacent bed. We had traveled nearly 12 hours for a mountain adventure and yet as we fell asleep the closest we had come was a lumpy mattress.
It was a camping trip that we will not soon forget, and the last in a chapter full of summer adventures that came to an end as that beautiful bus door pulled shut once again.
A personal perspective - Letting go of the youngest
by Maggie Fitzgibbon
There’s an old saying that truly captures life: “Time marches on.” And lately, the march at our home has become a race. Our youngest daughter, Shauna, heads off to college and our home has been a whirlwind of endings and beginnings.
Shauna’s senior year of high school was chocked full of culminations, so many bittersweet “lasts.” It all began the summer before her senior year as we helped her navigate the college exploration process. Trips were planned to various state and private colleges where she toured campuses and made her lists of pros and cons. Shauna knew what she wanted - a big college campus that was close to home that offered an engineering and architecture program. Academics have always been one of Shauna’s strengths, so we encouraged her to follow her goals.
Applications were made to her top five choices, and soon the acceptance letters came, which made the final decision process even harder. The University of Buffalo won as her final choice and Mike and I were glad because of its closeness to home!
During her senior year, Shauna was part of a BOCES 2 program called New Visions, a program designed to give high school seniors an opportunity to explore career paths through internships. Students are based on local college campuses and also earn college credits which are usually easily transferable. This experience solidified Shauna’s decision to pursue engineering and architecture in college. During those internships, she tried her hand at drawing architectural plans for the exterior remodel of a building, trudged through a muddy field to get samples for a soil study, learned how computer-aided design (CAD) software operates and made countless visits to construction sites. These internships solidified her career choice and made her college decision simpler.
A word of advice to parents - encourage your children while they are in high school to take college classes to earn credits. The cost is reasonable and the extra credits can help ease the course load during your student’s early college years. Internships give your student the opportunity to explore different career prospects while they gain real-world knowledge and experience.
Sports has always played an integral role in Shauna’s life, from the time she was seven, softball has been her passion. Her passion for the sport turned into drive which led her to be successful on the field in her school and travel softball teams. Every summer since she was 11, she played travel softball and we journeyed across the state. We celebrated victories and reassured her after defeats.
Her travel team coaches helped her perfect techniques and during off-season camps she honed her skills. While school sports can give a student an opportunity to learn a sport, it’s mainly travel sports that provide a competitive environment where an athlete can be challenged and play with other athletes who are at a similar skill level. As Shauna played on different travel softball teams, her hard work earned MVP awards and team trophies, but some of the most important lessons she learned were teamwork, leadership, honesty, sportsmanship and how to act with integrity.
These are life lessons. Mike and I have worked to instill these traits in our daughters but experiencing situations first-hand where lessons are learned and traits are tested is how a person grows and learns. Softball gave Shauna experiences that we would never trade, lifetime friendships and memories that can fill a book. Despite some challenges including a serious injury, she learned how to face adversity and conquer whatever comes her way.
This was a different summer for us. Mike and I stood by as she finished her school and sports career. We watched her walk the stage to collect her diploma, and swing her bat and round the bases for the last time. We were filled with so many poignant feelings knowing our youngest heads out to begin a new chapter in her life. We are excited for her new adventures but letting go isn’t easy. For 18 years, we guided, cajoled, encouraged, cheered, celebrated, laughed and cried with Shauna. It’s been a journey, but now she has a different course, a self-guided voyage.
So to our youngest, Shauna, we say, stay true to yourself. Situations may test you but draw upon your strength and faith to guide you. The world is now yours. Always know how much Daddy and I love you. Learn by your heart and remember the front door is always open.
Note: Freelance writer Maggie Fitzgibbon and her husband, Mike, live in Spencerport village. Shauna is their third Spencerport High School graduate.
Westside News Inc.’s Family Guy
Coaching sometimes needs incentives to get the best from their players
by Mark Ball
Great coaches have special ways to get the best out of each player. A truly standout coach will be able to take a player who has gone unnoticed and find the star quality within them. Sometimes their tactics are a little unorthodox. College basketball’s Bobby Knight has made his name through outrageous temper tantrums. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is known for his feng shui approach to leading a team. Critics will call certain tactics into question, but ultimately how many wins a coach amasses determines his or her legacy.
I like to think of my approach as deeply psychological. You know, in a brilliant way.
The point is, Molly is a soccer player. And I never thought that I would be able to say that.
Our nine-year-old has gone through life without producing any sweat. Molly is happy to join activities, but she rarely participates in anything at a level that would mess her hair up. Dance was too grueling. Gymnastics required too many stretches. Softball actually uses a ball that is hard, so that seems unrealistic. Her first go around with soccer a couple years ago was just about the same. If the ball came to Molly she just might do something with it, but she surely wasn’t compelled to chase after it.
There is nothing more excruciating to me than watching our children just go through the motions in an activity or sport. After all, they come from a long line of great ... Well, maybe it isn’t in the Ball family genes, but there is no time like this generation to produce a few winners. So, Coach Dad to the rescue.
In fairness, I wasn’t officially the coach, or the assistant coach, nor did I hold any office associated with Molly’s soccer league. However, I was there, and if I was going to spend time watching some of these games, then my daughter was going to be a champion.
The first game resembled many of the previous sporting events I had attended as a Molly fan. She had a winning smile and a headband that matched her shin guards, but those were the game highlights. We had a post-game pep talk about how the ball was actually put together with the idea that it would be kicked hard. I encouraged her to run to the ball, and not be afraid of hurting the other girls’ feelings if she got to it first.
The second game showed glimpses of promise, but in the end, only minimal improvement.
Most parents would handle this in stride. Molly is a true joy. She is the perfect oldest child. She is happy, well adjusted, helpful and sweet as they come. Most parents would say “close enough.” But most parents aren’t the most ingenious coach to ever grace recreation soccer.
I couldn’t rest until she had some fire in her belly. I became obsessed with developing ways to motivate her to excel on the soccer field.
That weekend Molly and I were out in the backyard passing the ball, shooting on goal and running some dribbling exercises. I gave her an inspiring pep talk about how fun winning can be. (Again, with this I had to reference stories I have watched or heard, because I haven’t personally been part of many winning teams). We worked hard, but even with our best efforts I was unsettled.
As we sat in the car before game time, I surveyed the pink team (their slated opponents for the night) and I knew this would be an uphill battle. These Pinkies had military-like precision.
The game started just like I had imagined. Pink soccer phenoms maneuvering all around the field were making our team look outnumbered and the most startling number was the score board: Pink - high number, Molly’s team - goose egg.
It was at our lowest that I became my most brilliant. When Molly came over to the sideline for a drink of water during a break in the action, I went into legendary coach mode.
“Molly, do you remember how much fun I said scoring a goal would be?”
“What if scoring a goal meant we could go out to dinner tonight?”
Her eyes grew as big as soccer balls. She said nothing, but pivoted and ran back onto the field.
Soon after, the ball was thrown in from the sideline. Molly took it away from the other team, marched down the field weaving in and out of traffic, and fired a laser into the corner of the net.
As I shouted her name, I pumped my fist in the air. In that moment, I had discovered coaching gold. Bribery was the key to unlocking Molly’s soccer potential!
Over dinner that night we laughed, celebrated and discussed future bribes like ice cream, new clothes and later bedtimes. I see a star in the making.
Westside News Inc.'s Family Guy
New career calls for adjustments
by Rev. Mark Ball
A few months ago, standing in church surrounded by family and friends, I said “I do,” and life for the Ball family changed forever. My vow this time didn’t result in another Mrs. Ball, but instead made the one I’ve come to know and love a pastor’s wife, and our four biggest blessings can now be referred to as pastor’s kids.
It was a new chapter that we have been preparing to write, since agreeing to go on this journey together about four years ago. Often times over the last few years I’ve had to encourage Leslie that this would be a good fit for us. Our kids could handle a little extra scrutiny. She would find the grace to grin and bear it when times were a little tougher. After all, I assured her, being a pastor wouldn’t change everything.
Now I just need to assure myself, because there are days when that collar feels a little extra tight.
Two nights ago we invited a couple of Leslie’s co-workers over for an informal get together to celebrate a baptism. On my way home from church, I decided to pick up a couple bottles of wine. As I walked into the store, I was greeted by a family friend who I hadn’t seen in years. She was excited to see me and congratulated me on my most recent accomplishments. She was so happy to have heard that I had become a pastor. What a holy endeavor.
As I turned to set the wine bottles on the counter, the clerk asked me, “Weren’t you in here just the other night buying the same thing?” He might as well have announced it over the PA system, while triggering the burglar alarm. I could feel my collar tightening. It took everything in me not to pretend that these bottles were headed for a communion cup somewhere. I checked out as quickly as possible and side stepped my way out of the store, to avoid further eye contact.
This was one small, awkward moment among many over the last few months. However, I got a good feel for my new life right away.
The week after ordination, Leslie and I decided to take a day trip to celebrate our new journey together. Part of our celebration included getting massages. As a back surgery survivor, I relish the opportunity to get a good back rub.
Moments into the hot towels, melodic music and faint lighting, the anxiety of our major life transition was a distant memory. As the masseuse worked on my shoulders she offered small talk to pass the time. We talked about kids, the weather, other topics that I faded in and out on. As my eyes began to close for the last time she asked me what it was that I did for a living. I told her I worked in a church.
“Doing what?” she asked.
“I’m a pastor,” I replied, not prepared for the pain that would follow.
Her grip on my shoulders became noticeably tighter. My eyes opened wide. Small talk was brushed aside as she shared the troubles of her world. With each account, her handiwork became more ferocious. Her knuckles went through my spine and rattled around my rib cage.
She talked about life’s hurts and sorrows. She had no idea how well I could now relate.
She wanted to know where God was during her trials. I wanted to know when He would make her relinquish her death grip on my torso. When she turned to grab some new type of torture device, I rolled off the table and grabbed my belongings.
Take massages off the list of activities for future pastor retreats.
It wasn’t long after saying “I do,” that I realized that “I can’t.” Don’t get me wrong, serving people as a pastor is the biggest thrill I have ever had and an honor I hope to have for my lifetime. But being a pastor is the fastest way to brush up on all your shortcomings - to realize just how human we all are.
And it is a good reminder this Easter of what we gather to celebrate - God’s love for us, not our own personal accomplishments. I think this will be the best Easter celebration at the Ball house yet, no wine, but much joy.