A Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

We, the enlightened, know.  We know that chasing perfection is a recipe for stress at any time, but a guaranteed killer during the holidays.  Right around Thanksgiving we take a deep breath, stare ahead at the holiday season and vow that this year it will be different.  We will stay in the moment and appreciate the true meaning of the season.  We won’t run desperately from computer to brick and mortar and back to find the perfect presents at rock bottom prices.  We will be joyful and relaxed.

What’s the saying, though?  ‘We all drift in and out of enlightenment.’  And never more than when there are so many demands on our attention.  Delightful Christmas parties with people we truly enjoy.  Church live nativity scenes and cookie exchanges and putting up the tree.  The work holiday party, the caroling, the teacher gifts. The enlightenment drifts away and we narrow our eyes at the To Do list.  We can relax when it’s done!  Yes!  Let’s get it all done a week early this year and then just revel in the season.

And like that, the perfection addiction creeps back in.

But Life will have no such perfection, no, She will make sure our hubris is punished.

She will remind us there is no such thing as perfection.

Just look in the front yard where twinkle lights are slowly dying on the two reindeer. Keep meaning to get out there to fix them, but never quite make it.  Remain bothered by it, though.

And there’s no perfection to be had when your combined oven and microwave unit dies Dec 5. (No oven. No microwave.  Process that.)  Not when the home warranty company takes a full month and three sets of technicians to decide it should be replaced (it was Jan 8 before it was replaced).  So you decide to cook the $200 prime rib in a plug-in roaster.  And maybe test out two of the seven ribs a couple of days before, which leads you to discover the roaster takes four times as long to cook the roast.  So you do the math and you wake up at 3:00 a.m. Christmas morning to put the roast in so that it will be done at 3:00 p.m. and then you go back to sleep.

At 8:00 a.m., right before letting the kids come pounding down the stairs in search of their gifts you check the roast and find that it’s done.  More than done.  For a middle of medium rare the temperature should read 130 but it reads 180.  That done.  Seven hours early.

You beg the kids for five minutes to go meditate and calm your agitated brain before they tear into their gifts.  Must return to the state of mind where you remember the real reason for Christmas.  The birth of Christ, time together with family, a family who is very accepting and will not be angry at all about the meat.  Breathe in and out, calm the blood pressure, try not to focus on the fact that you just ruined five of the seven ribs.  Remember that you have nice rare leftovers from the tester ribs.  Remember that your identity is not defined by cooking prime rib in a roaster.  Banish the thoughts of how much money the roast cost.

Notice again that the two reindeer in the front yard are only partially lit.  Consider going out to fix them but decide to focus on the excitement of kids getting presents.

Enjoy the day, the abundance, the warmth of time together with grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles.  Realize that you have room for sampling the twelve desserts since you didn’t fill up on prime rib. Realize most of the people in attendance like well done meat (or are very good actors).

Take the day after Christmas to clean up the house and pack for Tahoe.  Ignore the bickering of kids, ignore your outrage that they aren’t perfect angels after so much money was just spent on them. Pretend your house isn’t drowning in stuff.  Old stuff, new stuff, boxes and wrapping from the new stuff, desserts, leftover prime rib, bags of rolls, an explosion of ski wear.

Worry about Tahoe – there isn’t much snow.  Can we even ski?  Are we wasting our ski budget?  Decide it is the only time the whole family can go and go anyway.

In Tahoe find enough snow, sort of.

Come down with bronchitis and spend the second night shivering on the couch, unable to get warm despite a big puffy jacket, blankets and a fire.

Push on the next day to ski with daughter right up until she falls and concusses herself.  Ride down the mountain with the ski patrol and find the medical building. Remind self that you are too tired to ski anyway.  Banish thoughts of how much you just spent on lift tickets and rentals for one and a half runs.

Decide to go home early and rearrange car to ride in back with suffering daughter.  Try not to cough on her too much, try to keep shivers to a minimum. Reassure her she won’t die if she falls asleep (thanks ski patrol guy for mentioning that, that’s not even a thing anymore, is it?).

Take a long detour off of highway to find Chick Filet for the boy.  Calm husband with reassurances we are not almost to Fresno but mere miles from route 80.

Feel the tension in the car of four worn out people, a mom who has given up on perfection  but still feels the disappointment of not feeling our family has really connected with each other this holiday. A constantly hungry son, a work preoccupied dad, an exhausted bronchitis-enduring mom, a concussed daughter.  Can we just get home already?

Where’s the Christmas magic?  It seems like just enduring one not-great thing after another.

And then the tech-savvy dad puts an interview with Kevin Hart on his phone, running it through the speakers in the car.  And we all laugh.  And then he puts on one of his favorite comedians, Gary Gulman.  And we all laugh some more.  Improbably, the magic arrives and it is in the word ‘all.’

In a family with two teenagers, an often rule-bound mom and a dad in a new time-consuming job there hasn’t been much ‘all’ lately.  Someone is always irritated with someone else, it seems.

We laughed the whole way home, listening to one Gary Gulman recording after another, we laughed together.  All my rushing around and planning and organizing and paying for stuff is not the thing that brought us together this holiday season.  Oh how I like to believe I am the one who drives the fun and energy of our family.  And yet it was the unplanned, by chance playing of something my husband enjoys that was the magic.  So perhaps the great enlightenment of the holiday for me was realizing that there are forces beyond me that bring joy to our family, that I can just relax and do my part and sometimes that will be the important part and sometimes it won’t.

And when we pulled into the dark driveway I saw the half lit reindeer but even missing part of the lights you could make out the full shape of the reindeer, and I realized that when you have laughter together, an imperfectly lit life is enough.

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The Last Ride of the Honda

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Dave in his 1991 Honda Accord in front of Stanford’s Sunken Diamond. June 2017.

The first car my husband Dave bought was a 1991 Honda Accord, a proud purchase of a new car to accompany a proud new job as an assistant baseball coach at Stanford. Over the years the car took him to work at Stanford, and then to work at Pepperdine as head assistant, and then for 18 years to work at UC Berkeley as head coach. At some point early in the Cal years another car was added to the family and he rotated between the new car and the Honda. There were increasingly longer spans of time when the Honda was more of a driveway adornment than a mode of transportation. And then he’d drive it to work to keep it running, the team would win, and he’d keep driving it to keep the streak alive.

That kind of superstitious behavior happened during one of the most dramatic coaching years in his life, when the Cal athletic department announced they were dropping five sports, one of which was baseball. It was announced in the fall of 2010 that after the current year, baseball would no longer exist at Cal. This was a sport with a long tradition at Cal, it started in 1892, and in 1947 the Cal baseball team won the very first baseball national championship against Yale, with a little known player named George Bush senior playing for Yale. During that supposed last season Dave joked that he was simultaneously trying to ‘run a program, save a program, and dismantle a program.’ Even as he was training players in hitting and pitching and fielding he was sending them out on recruiting trips to other schools. He wanted to make sure each one of them had a place to land but he did joke that ‘it’s like letting my wife date.’

The players who stuck around (and all but 3 did) had a fierce sense of purpose. They were going to go out in a blaze of glory. Part way through that season Dave drove the Honda to work. They won. He kept driving it. They kept winning. The car became a superstitious talisman. A symbol of not quitting, ever. Keep doing the thing that got you here, even when people say ‘here’ won’t exist after June. Keep driving the thing that got you here, even though it has over 200,000 miles on it. Sometimes that is all you have to offer when life gets challenging. Keep going. Keep doing what you know to do, sometimes just a minute at a time.

Ultimately, passionate alumni raised 10 million dollars in a matter of weeks to save the program and the baseball team played their hearts out clear to the College World Series. Dave drove his Honda to campus, flew to Omaha and was driven to TD Ameritrade park on plush buses with a police escort and cheering crowds along the way. To the surprise of nobody but Dave, while in Omaha Dave was named the 2011 National Coach of the Year. The team took a private jet back to Berkeley where the newly anointed Coach of the Year climbed in his battered Honda and drove home, the same person he was before the College World Series.

Sometimes a car is just a car, just a means of getting from point A to point B. But sometimes a car can take on greater meaning and I suspect the Honda has been this for Dave. It is a symbol of him. It is a well built, long lasting, solid machine. It has been kept in good condition by his mechanic father. It is workman-like, as is Dave, as are the family from which he comes.  Like its owner, it is modest, it does not ask for attention, it just accumulates miles and continues to do its job without fanfare.

It is perhaps an emblem of level of expectations or entitlement. Dave has never acted entitled, not one minute in the 22 years I’ve known him. He expects to work hard for everything. He does work hard for everything. Even for the things that come easy, he expects to keep working hard (which is the recipe for success if you ask Carol Dweck, she of the ‘Growth Mindset’ theories). He is a masterful coach, he is a skilled leader, he is an almost effortless speaker, so it is not that he lacks confidence, but he has never strayed far from the humble man who drives an old Accord.

And here comes his opinionated wife, someone a little more comfortable with spending (okay, a lot more comfortable with spending). Someone not attached to cars (but definitely attached to him, and wanting him to drive safely). I must have seemed insensitive to him, not respectful of what the car means. Too eager to toss out the old. For years I’ve tried to get rid of the Honda. It seems too old and rickety to me (there are no airbags, for one) but he resists. The car is in its 26th year of life, literally twice as old as our son. What will be the deciding point? What will happen for him to let go of the car? It isn’t going to be that it stops working, his dad has made sure of that. Peeling paint off the top? Nope, been like that for a couple of years. Hardened crusty upholstery? Nope. Faded everything?   Nope. Busted radio? Nope. Been replaced at least four times over the years.

So many things in life come and go. Players, in the natural order come and go. Assistants come and go. Jobs come and go. And the Honda has been there, all along, longer even than me, his wife. Maybe it is hard for him to think of it as something that comes and goes. It came, and now the ‘go’ part, well, he’s resisting it.

But lately, the car seems to have gone downhill, like a person at the end of life ready to transition. Even Dave agrees it has deteriorated rapidly in the past couple of months. To me, it looks like a car that has fulfilled its mission and is waiting for permission to be done.

In June Dave was hired as the new head baseball coach at Stanford. In all the excitement of the new job his nice car, the one only five years old, picks up an odd sound in the engine so his dad takes it to work on it. Just like that, he is back to driving the Honda. And there it is. Full circle. From a young assistant coach at Stanford with his proud new car, to a not as young head coach with his loyal old car. The Honda has brought him the whole way around. It has brought him home and it is proud and now it can rest.

Mazi and the Meaning of Team

 

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Glennon Melton Doyle wrote that “compassion is not your pain in my heart.  That’s pity.  Pity helps no one. No, compassion is your pain in my heart and back out through my hands.  Feelings are just energy.  Eventually we have to make something with them.” (If you haven’t checked out Glennon’s blog do it as soon as you are done reading this http://momastery.com/blog/).

I was sitting there feeling the pain in my heart of losing Mazi Maghsoodnia and I hadn’t done anything with that.  We so often don’t. We talk to each other and repeat, over and over, ‘I can’t believe it.’  Talking is helpful, and then, as Glennon said, you need to go beyond the pain in your heart.

So when Quinn S. called me one night and asked me if I wanted to go up to the town rock and ‘paint away the pain’ (so eloquently said, Quinn) it felt like the right thing.  And then more pain came back out through my hands when I wrote a couple blog posts about the experience.  But I wasn’t the only one making something with the pain and it feels like it is time to reveal the other Sisters of the Rock.

Amy, on the far right, came up with the idea to paint the town rock in Mazi’s honor. This wouldn’t have happened without her brilliant idea.

Quinn, second from right with the devilish grin, organized the entire op, including the 7-11 run for tall-boys. This wouldn’t have happened without her desire to do something with her pain.  

Christie, in the middle, outlined the letters (beautifully big!  You can see them from way far away) and created the soccer ball (repeatedly checking a picture on her phone, while we all worried the police would see the light).

Prab, second from left, filled every spot with paint, soldiered over the top and bottom making sure nothing was left uncovered.

Karen, on the far left is the one who had two people holding on to her sweatshirt as she hung over the top of the ‘M’ to get the top of the letter just right.

I’m the historian, taking the picture and struggling to put words to how the pain is coming back out through our hands. (Apologies for the blurry picture but it was late.  And dark.  And we are perhaps, like Barbara Walters, enhanced by a bit of a blur to a photo.  Plus we can deny participation if anyone tries to make trouble for us.)

Those of us with blond hair woke up to pink bangs, the red paint that stuck on our hands ending up somehow in our hair (I liked it, wished it had lasted longer).  We also woke up to blackened pillows because we used eye black to paint ‘mazi’ on one side of our faces and a heart on the other.IMG_20160319_221250234

Each time I write a blog post about Mazi my husband reminds me that I haven’t actually mentioned how we know Mazi.  So, third time’s a charm,  Mazi was my son’s Eclipse soccer coach along with Miguel Camacho (aka ‘the Soccer Whisperer’).  Mazi and Miguel were a great team.  The whisperer and the vocal cheerleader.  The loud positive and the quiet positive.

This U12 soccer team was a team that took its time coming together.  When you put kids from different towns together it takes a while to gel, and this team was no exception.  When you play soccer for an organization that, gasp, values kids playing multiple sports, it takes even longer to get to know everyone, because they weren’t all always there at practices, or even games.

Mazi and Miguel worked their magic and the team started to play well together.  And they won a few games.  And lost a few games.

It was all fun but they had never won a tournament.

And then, in August of 2015, Eclipse played in the Copper Select tournament in San Ramon against the mighty Mt. Diablo Arsenal.  In retrospect I wish had been taking notes, wish I had a more fact based description of that tournament (but then again, it was never my goal to be a sports reporter).  What I know is that the Eclipse team that weekend somehow kept winning.  What I know is that Mazi’s whole family was there to watch Nader and Mazi.  What I know is that, against the odds, the Eclipse team ended up in the FINAL GAME!

I remember hearing the whispers up and down the sideline as that final game started, Arsenal usually creamed their opponents.  They always scored a bunch.  They were unbeatable.

The game was the most intense I had ever seen our team play.  Every kick, every pass was contested by both sides.  Our kids played with a fever we had never seen.  They played like the future of the world hung in the balance, like if they lost, nuclear bombs were going to start going off in the parking lot and continue going off all over the planet.  They played like they would lose their phones and video games forever if they lost.  They were sweating, they were running until they were breathless, they were sticking a foot in where they couldn’t make a steal.  They were dogging the other team, hanging close to their defender/offender and doing whatever came to mind to win that moment.

Mt. Diablo Arsenal shot many many times on our goal and somehow, the ball never went in.  We could hear the parents on the other team exclaiming in disbelief, like a spell had been put on our goal protecting it.  The ball hit off of the cross bar, the side bar, off the tip of our goalie’s finger, off the side of our other goalie’s toe.  And our defenders seem to literally be giving pieces of themselves to every ball and defense.  Everybody watching knew there was something special going on.  No one wanted to say that, no one wanted to jinx it, but it was special.

So often in these kinds of battles parents along the sidelines start to be snipey at the other team’s parents.  But this didn’t happen. There was a grudging respect because the game was that good. We were all yelling for our team but when the other team did something good there was an appreciation for that.

The game, improbably, unbelievably, against all odds, was tied at zero at the end of regulation.  It is hard to describe what a triumph even that was.  It shouldn’t have happened.  It had never happened before against this team (and never has again, and we’ve played them multiple times).  But there it was.

And with the waning daylight they went straight to penalty kicks.

My son was the goalie who would be receiving the penalty kicks in the biggest game of his life, the biggest game of his team’s career.  Knowing he was a reluctant goalie at best, I had to fight off the urge to run across the field and snag him and take off for the parking lot at a fast run, worried what a loss might feel like to him.   And then, I saw someone standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders, leaning in and talking.  I saw my son’s head nodding.  I saw him nod again.  Even from a distance I saw his shoulders relax. It wasn’t Miguel.  It wasn’t Mazi.  It was Kian.  Mazi’s older son, a guy who knew something about being a goalie.  I would later learn that Kian gave him calm instructions.  Told him to watch the hips of the the player as he kicked, know which way the ball was going to go, know which way to dive.  Made him believe he could do it.  Made him trust himself and his team.  Kian wasn’t a coach on this team but, like a Maghsoodnia, jumped in to do what he knew to do.  Quietly, calmly, he gave my son confidence.

Parents on both sides were yelling, grabbing each other, looking to the heavens for help.  Each kick and goal or save resulted in gasps and screams.  There was no heartbeat that was calm at that point.  No player, no coach, no parent.  Well, maybe Miguel, the Soccer Whisperer was calm, but the rest of us were shaking with adrenaline.

Back and forth it went until we were tied.

Each team had one last chance.  Eclipse kicked and scored to put us one ahead.  And then it was up to us to defend one last kick to win.

“Watch the hips,” Kian had said and he did.  He stuck his hands out as the ball shot toward him, and the ball flicked up and away from the goal.

Eclipse had won.

The first tournament win for this group.

The most exciting, ecstatic dancing (and we know Mazi can dance), the dog pile, the screaming, it was, in that fading twilight, a pure joy.

Who was to know that the fading twilight also described Mazi?

Maybe that intense joy spoke of an awareness, in some subconscious part of all of us, that this win meant something more.  Looking back it feels like maybe it was a gift, a perfect day for the Maghsoodnia’s to keep in their memory bank.  Because Lida was there to watch Nader, Auveen was there, Mazi was there, Kian was there and helped coach.  And one of the best pictures ever is this one:  Kian and Auveen with Nader on their shoulders, their parents there to share in the joy.

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The feeling of team, it is so special.  We all desperately strive for winning, for great performances, for great stats for ourselves and then our kids.  But maybe what we are really looking for, with all this sports hoopla, is to feel like part of something.  Maybe this is the real trophy, to feel part of a team.

Isn’t this what family actually means, that you belong to something? Someone has your back, someone cares about you, someone is working with you to make life better.  My husband coaches for a living and it is the thing he strives for the most, to give his players this feeling of being a family.  Of a brotherhood that goes deeper than batting average or wins and losses.  When you feel that connection to others you realize how much more you can achieve than if you were just working on your own.

People may think that winning makes you feel like a team, but it more often works the other way around, when you are a team, a true team, that is when you start winning.  We all felt it at that tournament, this team that Mazi and Miguel created. Those boys were playing like they were brothers and their brothers’ lives were on the line.  It infected the sidelines, the parents all felt connected too. There’s nothing like a rush of adrenaline and a wild hug after a penalty kick goal to bring people together.  We weren’t just hugging the people we knew best, we were all hugging everyone. It was such a shared joy.  

This concept of shared joy, it is just so Mazi.

I am deeply grateful that my son got to be part of Mazi’s Eclipse team, and that  I got to be  part of the team that painted Mazi’s rock.  We called ourselves ‘Sisters of the Rock,’ and I’ll tell you this, you didn’t have to be one of the people up there that night to belong to this team.  There are many more Sisters out there, and Brothers too.  Which is another way of saying that Mazi left a worldwide family, and that family will take care of its own.

IMG_13961Beautiful Lida on the rock