Brad let's it rip Allow me to start January 2001 with Bradley's ninth birthday on Friday, December 29th.  Keith took the day off.  Brad had three requests for his birthday: a trip to the skateboard shop, bowling, and a family excursion to the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

The skateboard shop was quite the cultural experience for 37 year old Keith.  After 30 minutes of picking up the vibes, we escaped with only free posters, some stickers for Brad's helmet (parents are eager to do anything to make the helmet "cooler"), and a Jones Soda (a counter cultural soft drink that Brad assures me is very cool).  The skateboard shop is local, in a strip mall in our suburban enclave.  Keith noted that all the other customers in the store that morning were also relatively young children with their parents in tow.

Doug uses body english and the bumpers to keep the ball in play Bowling was a family event.  Modesty prevents your narrator from revealing the family champion.  But everyone had a great time, and we must remember bowling as a good hour-long family event.  A lot has changed since I was Bradley's age.  Heck, a lot has changed since the last time I bowled period.  Every lane now has flip down bumpers to protect your balls from the gutter.  And Keith, professional programmer, is loathe to admit that he never did get the automatic scoring system programmed quite right. 

Unfortunately, Doug had a bit of a cold, and parents felt going out to the very cold Wild Animal Park on a winterís evening was not the best thing for him.  We decided to postpone the Wild Animal Park for another time.

The next evening (sorry folks, still havenít made it to the advertised starting date of January 2001) we traveled up the freeway for a combined holiday (Christmas and Brad's birthday) visit with Betty and George in San Marcos.  We always have such a wonderful time when we visit, we always wonder why we donít get together more often. 

Brad and Doug at a stream crossing above the waterfall New Yearís Day (raspberries to anyone who just muttered, "Itís about time."):  Keith and Brad and Doug went on a hike through a local nature preserve.  Dad severely underestimated the length of the hike and the time it would take the boys.  The boys arenít slow hikers, theyíre just not steady hikers.  Any stream or rock or puddle can bring a halt to the proceedings.   I donít know about the nature preserves in your part of the country, but around here, rocks come every ten feet.  The destination of the hike, a waterfall, held endless fascination when we (finally) got there.  Once there, a new set of challenges confronted Keith as he had to weigh both safety (as the Dad) and wilderness ethic (as the Eagle Scout) against the fun the boys were having scrambling all over the rocks and through the stream and throwing said rocks into said stream.  It was on the way back when the break downs occurred, a good mile from the car.  Children crying, Dad withholding water and food until the next rest stop "just another 100 yards."  All involved swore theyíd never do it again, though of course in retrospect we meant "not the same way."  Next time, weíll all be smarter.  Weíll take Mom with us next time.
Brad on the right Saturday January 6th Brad's birthday party was held at an indoor rock climbing gym.  Located in a nearby light industrial complex, the space has 30 foot high ceilings and artificial walls with bolt-in artificial rock holds.  Everybody gets a climbing harness, and every wall has a rope wrapped once around a 6 inch pipe at the top.  The climber approaches the wall and clips the carabiner on one end of the rope onto their harness.  The climberís partner clips their carabiner on to the rope to take and give slack as the climber goes up and down.  Itís so antiseptic and easy compared to when I did this outdoors 20 years ago (all right, 23 years, but whoís counting).  Theyíve made it so easy that you can have a bunch of 9 year olds (and even their sedate parents) do this safely and have a lot of fun.

Doug had swim lessons at the YMCA every Saturday in January (so did Brad).  I only throw that in now to break up all the Brad paragraphs.

Doug almost to eye level January was Little League tryout month.  The Saturday after the Olympiad, Keith went down to the old diamond and threw fly balls and yelled "slide!" at kids for a couple hours while coaches in beach chairs in the outfield scribbled notes for their Little League draft. The following Saturday Dad sat on the bench and it was Brad's turn to hit off the pitching machine, run the bases, field grounders and throw to first, and catch fly balls.  Douglas is playing T-Ball for the first time this year, but they donít make the rookies go through this degrading cattle call exercise.

Douglas completed his stint in special education.  He was getting two half hours a week of after school speech therapy.  Our excellent school district has been providing this for Doug for the last year, even before he was in kindergarten.  Now that he can speak as clearly as any kindergartner, he goes just once or twice a month.

Brad at the Geography Olympiad with some teammates One last thing about eldest son around whom the earth and stars revolve: Bradley received his first academic honor last year.  He tried out for and made his elementary school Geography team, one of only four third graders to do so.  Every Thursday after school they held a geography practice for an hour.  Thursday, January 11 was the big county wide Geography Olympiad in which they competed in various geography-themed events with other schools.  The fact that it was an excused all day absence from school was second in Brad's excitement only to the fact that the Olympiad was held at a local college.  Okay, it was a junior college, but Brad doesnít know the difference.  Although Brad didnít win or place in any of the events he competed in, his school did win the Elementary School division.  This was wonderful reward for the kids, and the moms like Kristi, who worked so hard every Thursday afternoon.  And sweet vindication for the parent volunteers when our little elementary school beat out a hoity-toity school from a hoity-toity neighborhood that, it was rumored, had hired a Geography Tutor for the team! 
Brad on 12/31/00 bike ride through new highway construction In between the Olympiad and tryouts, Keith had his biggest work day of the year. Keith works on the electronic filing hub that collects tax returns from TurboTax and MacInTax and transmits the returns on to the IRS and 40 state tax authorities. The IRS turns on their electronic filing system every year the Friday before Martin Luther King Day. (Consider the lunacy: the IRS turns on their system, then immediately goes on a three day weekend.)  So Keith's system turns on Thursday night at 9 pm local time, which is midnight on the east coast. We have a party and ceremony in the Operations room, with various vice presidents in attendance.  Someone types the command to connect our computers with the Internet, and we shake our heads as 1000 returns are received in the first hour.  "Can you believe how many people are spending their Thursday night/Friday morning electronically filing their tax return at the earliest possible moment?  What sad, pathetic lives," we say derisively, never looking around the room and contemplating the sad, pathetic lives of those who gather to watch the first returns come inÖ.
Same bike ride, same crane, a lot more altitude As one of the senior engineers on the electronic filing system team, Keith is one of four Development Single Point of Contact (D-SPOC for those of you who like acronyms).  A cell phone and a log book rotates between the four senior engineers and for a week at a time we are on call to the operators if a "situation" arises.  Keith lucked out and got the first weekend.  He missed the kidsí swim lessons, talking on the cell phone Saturday morning.  He insisted on getting off the phone for 10 minutes when it was Bradley's turn at tryouts 2 hours later.  He finally gave up and went into work for that afternoon and all of that evening.  None of the DSPOCs are too thrilled with this new addition to our job description.  We love handing the phone and the notebook to the next victim on Monday morning, however.
Mom's license plate holder on the mini-van Just because Kristiís name hasnít been mentioned much, donít think she had any calmer of a January than the rest of us.  In addition to the usual volunteering in Dougís Kindergarten class on Tuesday mornings and Brad's third grade class on Thursday mornings and Geography team on Thursday afternoon and PTA School directory author (copies available on request), etc., etc., Kristi is also involved in the Wednesday night program at church, called Soul Food.  She coordinates the dinner before classes start, then teaches the 3rd-5th graders.  January 10th (the night before the Olympiad and Keithís season kickoff) was the start the winter session of Soul Food. 
After a month like that, we needed a vacation.  And after a page as long as this one, we better put that story on a  yet another page .
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