Sunday, September 29, 2019

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2019 World Championship Road Race


Bicycle races can be fun to watch. Sometimes, though, it’s like the Super Bowl … super boring because it’s a blowout. In cycling, this generally happens when one team (usually Ineos) dominates. Teams or riders dominate when they’re doing a better job of doping than the others. Announcers stand by and pretend nothing is amiss. I don’t pull punches like that … in fact, when I get frustrated I start throwing punches all over the place, practically at random. I haven’t had to do that lately, because … well, who knows, could the sport be cleaning up? It’s possible. Or maybe I’m sinking into complacency.

Well, I don’t have Ineos, or any other trade team, to kick around today because it’s the World Championship road race, where riders represent their countries instead. (At least, they’re supposed to.) But you can bet my coverage will be as biased and unprofessional as ever.  For example, I would love it if the defending world champion, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, totally sucked today because he’s a filthy doper. So read on, for the “real” (i.e., my version of) the story.

2019 World Championship Road Race – Yorkshire, England

“Having a teammate would certainly help at the finish,” the announcer says as I join the action. His Antipodean voice sounds both sad and playful, like a character, Dumbeldork or whatever, from a Harry Potter book. So far I’m not hugely impressed with his tactical insight.

Well, our recent Vuelta a España winner, Primoz Roglic, is dropping out. He probably just showed up for form, to make an appearance, like those dead weight guys on your work conference calls. It’s frigid and raining here … at least half the peloton will drop out. The race is brutally long: 261 km, almost 162 miles.

“Is there a possibility of Peter Sagan winning a fourth title?” the announcer asks. Um, yeah, I think we can assume there’s at least a possibility.

Right now the entire peloton is together and they’ve completed the BS just-add-mileage point-to-point part of the race, and now face seven laps of a hilly circuit.

Wow, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) is dropped! They’re saying he crashed earlier. I don’t need to admit this, but he was my top pick to win today, after he looked so good in the Tour. I guess I’m no oracle.

Nairo Quintana (Colombia) is with Gilbert, and I’m going to pose this question: “Is there a possibility of Quintana even finishing today?”

Okay, Gilbert is quitting. “Oh, dear, Gilbert’s dreams are over,” the announcer says lugubriously. “He’s crying like a little bitch, he can’t stop.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

I don’t know, Gilbert doesn’t look like he’s crying to me … he just looks cold. “He’s inconsolable,” the announcer goes on. How can he say that, when nobody is actually trying to console Gilbert? Speaking of inconsolable, I’m not super stoked with the footage today. We aren’t getting any feeds from motorbikes because the drivers and cameramen don’t feel like being out in the rain. Perhaps eventually their bosses will make them get their asses out there.

In 1986, the Worlds were in Colorado, and I had front row seats. I didn’t have a formal credential of any kind, but discovered that you could just sort of go wherever you wanted if you acted like you belonged there. It was cold and raining on and off, and I took shelter for a while in the American tent as rider after rider dropped out, joined us in the tent, collapsed into a chair, and bitched about what a grind that was. The only one who stayed in the race was Greg LeMond, who missed the final breakaway. I watched the finish from the roof of an RV parked at the finish line. It was glorious: Argentin outsprinting Mottet.

To get into the British spirit here, and because I’m lazy, I’m having PG Tips tea instead of coffee. Alas, it’s not enough to wake me up so I have to go fetch more. Don’t worry, there’s at least 90 minutes left and the peloton is still all together so you won’t miss anything.

Okay, I’m back. The announcer says there are “less than 100 riders left in the race.” I think he meant “fewer” but then these guys aren’t exactly liberally educated.

It’s a bit tricky telling who is who, frankly. I don’t get to see anybody up close without the motorbikes, and nobody is in his recognizable trade team jersey. The jackets obscure their numbers which doesn’t help. Meanwhile, anybody who gets a bike change doesn’t show up on the readouts that the announcers use, which challenges them. I’m also spoiled because in this past Vuelta everyone was so tired by the third week, the peloton tended to shrink down to a very manageable size.

They keep promising the motorbike footage but nothing yet.

I just spotted an American rider! He’s tucked in the back, wearing a natty all-black jacket. That would be extra warm if there were any sign of the sun today. I have to say, I doubt this race will do anything for tourism in the UK (though that actually is a great vacation spot).

Oh, cool, we’ve finally got motorbike footage! Of course, it comes with a new caveat:

I wouldn’t want to fly a helicopter in these conditions so I guess I can’t complain.

Sam Bennett, the Irish spinter, drops out. Good, I don’t want this coming down to a sprint. That’s boring.

I’ve just learned that Valverde has abandoned. Excellent! Nobody is able to get footage of him climbing into his team car. He’s probably ashamed to abandon so early, being the defending champ. Well, in fairness, I’m sure he’s totally fried from taking second in the Vuelta. (Am I tempted to give him some credit for that achievement? Please.)

With five laps (about 70 km) to go, it’s still all together, with France and The Netherlands on the front setting tempo. The Dutch are trying to set up wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel for the win.

 Wow, an American attacks! It’s Lawson Craddock.

Daaamn, he’s getting a pretty good gap very quickly!

Some random dude has joined him. It’s Stefan Kung, a Swiss rider. He’s a pretty big guy, which bodes well. Big guys do better in the rain, just like they can hold their booze better. This isn’t just established fact, it’s my personal opinion as well, so you better take it seriously.

After taking like three minutes to eat a gel, Kung finally takes a turn at the front.

I strongly dislike Craddock’s handlebars. They’re like the “Randonneur” touring bike bars from the ‘80s. I guess I’m still rooting for him, though. It’s not like he chose those bars. In fact, his willingness to use what he’s provided, even when it’s so awful, is the height of professionalism.

In the peloton, Mike Teunissen of The Netherlands drills it at the front to shrink down the peloton. We’ll see what that does to the 31-second gap up to the lead duo.

Dang, just watching this is making me cold. I tried to warm my hands on my tea mug but it’s one of those double-walled insulated ones. I’m up in Oregon at my mom’s house, and the window is open because I’m too busy to empty the cat box right now, so it’s mighty frigid here. This is such a hard race for me!

The leaders have a gap that’s fluctuating between 25 and 35 seconds. Obviously they can’t hold this for 57 km, but perhaps somebody interesting will bridge up to them. I don’t think it’s possible for an American and a Swiss to do an epic break like that on their own … you need a Belgian or Dutchman in the mix to do something that heroic. That’s just the way it is.

Patriotism aside, I’d like to see van der Poel win, because I love to say his name. Back when his father, Adri, was winning a lot, back in the late ‘80s, I enjoyed saying that name, figuring out how to inject it into every conversation. (With that kind of social skill, it’s kind of amazing I wasn’t more of a ladies’ man.) Anyway, the young van der Poel is also a mountain bike and cyclocross racer, which I think is just kind of cool.

As the peloton comes through the finish line for another lap we get a more accurate split to the break: it’s only 20 seconds.

Another random guy attacks the peloton. His bike looks really odd, somehow bringing to mind a giraffe. I’m still getting used to seeing disc brakes on pro peloton road bikes. I’ll bet they’re nice to have in the rain today.

The chair I’m sitting at is too low. This is making my shoulders sore. Man, Worlds is a bitch!

The break is just sitting out there. I’m starting to think maybe Craddock won’t win this after all. Speaking of American victories, though, Junior Worlds was won by an American this year: Quinn Simmons. He fricking soloed … I didn’t watch it, but I’ve heard it was amazing. So we’ll keep an eye on that guy!

OMG, some dude totally stacks!

D’oh, his helmet whacked the pavement and everything. Poor dude.

Some guy attacks the peloton, bridges all the way to the break, and suddenly Craddock is dropped!

Man, things change fast. The new leader is Mads Pedersen of Denmark. That was an amazing bridge. So it’s just Pedersen and Kung out front, with Craddock floating a bit behind. Craddock is joined by some Dutchman … who now drops him.

Italy’s Gianni Moscon attacks the field and blows by Craddock, who’s on his way back to seek the breast of drafting and be suckled by the peloton.

The Dutchman who bridged up to Craddock was Teunissen, and he’s now on his own between the breakaway and Moscon, chasing like a madman.

And Teunissen has got them! This is great news for Holland because now van der Poel can just sit on, back in the peloton, and wait to counterattack if the break gets caught.

And now Moscon catches the break!

This is cool: Kung asks Teunissen for a gel and Teunissen gives it to him. They’re great pals now … if they make it to the last kilometer together, of course, that will change quickly.

One of my nephews just came over to see what I’m doing. He thinks that basketball is a far better sport than cycling. (Of course he does … he reached 6’4” at age thirteen.) I explain, “These are real men. They’re out there for over 160 miles in the frigid rain, rather than always playing indoors in a climate-controlled environment.” Peter replies, “Yeah, but they’re wearing yoga pants!” I explain that these uniforms predate yoga. But he’s wandering off. He’ll never learn.

The screen says the break still has 25 seconds but it doesn’t look that way to me. I could see everybody together in one shot just now.

Nils Politt of Germany makes a savage attack. What’s left of the peloton reacts swiftly.

With surprising quickness, Nils and three others, looks like van der Poel is one of them, significantly shrink the gap to the breakaway. Note the absurd Simpson-Meets-Flanders flag in the foreground.

Teunissen is dropped! I did not see that coming. Perhaps he’s dropping back for van der Poel. Could these guys be that organized?

And Nils is suddenly dropped! It’s because van der Poel is going so damn fast! Matteo Trentin of Italy is the guy on his wheel. Not sure who that third guy is.

And now van der Poel and Trentin catch the breakaway!

But the peloton is not far behind and there’s a ton of attacking back there.

So this lead group of five has two Italians. I think Moscon’s jacket might have thrown people off from realizing this. The Belgians have got to be pissed … they don’t even have a guy in the break!

There’s a chase group of three only 7 seconds behind, with the field another 10 seconds back. I hope this break stays off because I’ve taken some trouble reporting on it.

Kung misses a feed. D’oh! But somehow he scores another gel. Very resourceful, that guy. Note that this is the third gel he’s eaten since we started watching. Wise man.

The chasers are Izagirre Insausti (Spain), Carlos Betancur (Colombia), and Tom Skujins (Latvia). They’re looking really tired. Betancur is now dropped.

Up here in Oregon, winter has already arrived. I guess it’s fitting I should be freezing my arse off as I watch this. (In case you haven’t realized it yet, today is really all about me.)

The gap to the peloton is up to 35 seconds with 24 km (15 miles) to go. Betancur latches back on to the other two, but these guys are falling apart, they’re going to get caught. It’s a shame for them … they were so close to catching the break.

The gap is going out further, now up to 48 seconds so it’s not looking good for anybody in the peloton. As for the break, is van der Poel a big enough badass to beat the Italian duo of Moscon and Trentin, if they take turns attacking him?

Just to recap, the break is Kung (Switzerland), van der Poel (Holland) Pedersen (Denmark), and Moscon and Trentin (Italy).

Moscon cracks!

This lowers the breakaway’s chances of staying off, but obviously benefits Kung, van de Poel, and Pedersen if they can hang tough and hold it to the line.

But Moscon digs deep and makes it back on!

You know he suffered terribly to chase them down. What a badass!

Tim Wellens (Belgium) gets sawed off the back of the peloton. The peloton is rapidly dissolving as some furious Belgian bashes away on the front (perhaps unaware of the specific damage his effort has just caused).

Amazingly, Moscon has revived and is now doing solid work on the front of the break!

The leaders are now on the final lap, with only 13 km (8 miles) to go and a 47-second lead. In normal conditions, and in a shorter race, I’d expect the peloton to still have a solid chance, but I’ll bet everybody is just tired, cold, and demoralized. Look how sad Sagan looks. I think his sunglasses are falling off. Maybe that’s why he’s always rocking the ski goggles on the podium. Well, he won’t be doing that today.

Oh my god! Suddenly ven der Poel completely cracks!

He detonated so abruptly, I couldn’t even get a snapshot of the gap opening up. I think he probably bonked. He should’ve hustled up a couple of gels like Kung did!

And just like that, ven der Poel is caught by the peloton.

And now he’s off the back completely. What a shame, after his amazing move to catch the break.

Pedersen, notwithstanding the huge advantage Italy has in this breakaway, does a solid pull.

Trentin has finally ditched his jacket. Moscon is doing a lot of work on the front, making sure Trentin can save something for the finish (being the faster sprinter).

Now Kung pulls through. These guys are really working well together and that’s why the winner of this race will almost surely come from this group.

And Kung is just crushing it on the front! Moscon is dropped again, and Trentin is dying!

Kung is amazing. He was the original guy in this break, you’ll recall. And that was ages ago, with like 65km to go.

Sagan makes his move. Uh, dude? You are aware how overdue this is, right?

Kung is still being a total hero at the front and you can tell he’s suffering.

Now they’re inside of the final kilometer and suddenly they’re crawling, each waiting for someone else to pull through. Kung, on the back, looks absolutely miserable. I think he’s had the stuffing knocked out of him.

And Trentin launches his sprint!

But Pedersen is super fast and, surprisingly (to me, anyway, as I’ve never even heard of him) comes around! He’s heading for the line and looks like he’s got it!

What an amazing victory! I hadn’t really thought much about Petersen’s chances in this breakaway … he was just some guy. So what can we quickly learn about Pedersen? Well, he’s only 23 years old. He rides for an American team. He was second at Flanders last year. And now he’s being interviewed.

“What does it mean, to be wearing the World Champion jersey?” asks the interviewer. Pedersen replies, “Well, it’ll be harder to keep it clean. White is tricky that way, and remember, cycling costumes have to be washed in cold. So 2020 will be a tough season. I think I’ll need to lay in a good supply of Tide Plus Colorguard, and some Spray ‘n Wash.” The announcer says, “This must be a very special moment for you. A good soak should help with those whites. You might consider checking in with Mr. Laundry for some more helpful tips.” Pederson responds, “Thanks. Thanks for that.” (Note: I might not have this exchange exactly right. It’s possible laundry didn’t actually come up.)

Here’s a nice shot, thanks to the super-slo-mo replay, of Pedersen winning the race. I love how utterly wretched Kung looks in the background.

And here’s van der Poel crossing the line, looking pretty bollixed himself.

A domestique, noting earlier that I was slapping my hands together to beat blood back into them so I could type, has now brought me a down vest. I appreciate the gesture but where was he half an hour ago? The race is over!

Now the medalists are mounting the podium. Trentin really doesn’t look very happy.

Not surprisingly, Pedersen looks well chuffed.

And here’s your final podium. Trentin still can’t manage a smile. I hope he doesn’t kick any dogs later today. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll reflect on how a silver medal is actually pretty cool. Kung looks pretty pleased and he should be … he’s only 25 and obviously a complete badass with lots to look forward to. Also, being taller than the others, he will probably ultimately make more money. As for Pedersen, you know who he looks like? Buzz Lightyear. Am I right?

So, in closing, I invite you to ponder these facts: 1) an American initiated what became the winning break (even if he didn’t hang around to contest the finale), and 2) Valverde sucked even more than I hoped he would. What a great race!

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Monday, September 23, 2019

From the Archives - Journal for my Daughter


A few days before my first daughter was born, I started keeping a journal about her life. This was inspired by those baby books, where you put in footprints, stats about size and weight at birth, milestones, etc. As far as actual use goes, those baby books are surpassed only by exercise bikes and crock pots in unfulfilled good intentions. Usually the first couple of pages are diligently filled out, and then the new parents get overwhelmed and the rest of the book is blank. I vowed to do better. The result? A mammoth 450-page document, spanning my daughter’s entire life thus far, which I presented to her last week when dropping her off at college.

A note on the text: it’s written in the second person (i.e., “you”) because its real audience is my daughter. I’m just offering you albertnet readers a taste. Not because you care about my kid’s childhood, but because as a parent, or a recovering kid, you might relate to some of it.

December 11, 2002 (age 1)

It’s too early to tell for sure, but you may have your first word: No. You have said this many times when someone does something you don’t like, such as taking something away from you. You cry out, “No no no no no!” The problem is, it sounds a lot like generic baby babble, and “n” is one of your favorite consonants anyway, so it’s not for sure yet. Of course, given your willfulness it wouldn’t surprise us a bit for “no” to be your first word.

January 13, 2003 (age 1)

As I’d theorized long ago, you have settled on your official first word: No. You say it very clearly and distinctly, in proper context. You even point as you say it. For example, on New Year’s Eve, as your mom was nursing you with a bottle (an early foray toward weaning you), you kept pulling back from the bottle, pointing at her, and saying, “No. No. No.” After much wracking of my brain, I have finally figured out a) why this is your first word, and b) why you often point as you say it.

The “why” question arises because your mom and I seldom say “no” to you. We’re real pushovers, actually, reserving “no” for when you’re doing something dangerous that you need to be warned about. The rest of the time we just distract you (as from the ointment tube that you want to suck on, or the milk bottle you want to drag around with you to paint things with). The answer finally hit me when I saw you scolding Misha, our cat, pointing at her and bellowing “NO!” just like I always do. Ever since you were born, the poor cat is constantly misbehaving to get some attention. She shreds the sofa with her claws, jumps in your crib, or tries to reach your high chair. Something about scolding a cat requires pointing, because they’re so good at tuning out humans. So your “no,” like mine to the cat, means both “no” and “That’s right, buddy, I mean you!” You say it constantly. If your mom or I offer you something you don’t want, you push it away and say “No!” or “No no no no no!” If the cat is sitting there, minding her own business, and you want to assert your place in the family hierarchy, you point at her and say “No!” It’s practically a refrain for you. It’s really the perfect way for you to express the essence of your personality.

February 8, 2003 (age 1½)

You now use the word “no” with incredible skill, imparting myriad subtleties of meaning, just like how a Southern Californian can say “dude” to indicate alarm, surprise, pleasure, disappointment, and so on. Of course “no” always means no, but you can also convey a variety of other notions: “Aw, c’mon, get real, no”; “Absolutely not”; “Leave me alone!”; “No thank you”; “Get this out of here!” and so on.

November 15, 2003 (age 2)

You seem to love day care. Sometimes you protest when we announce we’re taking you, but I think that’s just an inertia thing: you don’t want to stop doing whatever you’re doing. It’s often hard to get you to leave there in the evening. I think in your perfect world I would stay there with you and play, because when I pick you up you often want to engage me in some toy or puzzle. But you clearly like the other kids there, and they seem to really like you.

Sometimes the other kids seem to revere you. For example, when we show up, they gather around you to say hello and good morning and to ask you questions. And the other day, everybody was watching “Sesame Street,” and Nahid [one of the nannies] asked you, “What color is Cookie Monster?” You always have an answer for everything, and it’s always delivered with complete confidence, even if you’re grasping at straws. “Green,” you said authoritatively. “No, he’s blue,” said Nahid. A moment later, she said, “Zachary, what color is Cookie Monster?” He instantly replied, “Green.” What are the odds that he made exactly the same mistake as you had? Pretty slim, I’d say. I think he simply trusted you over Nahid. So if you end up being the leader of a company, a platoon, or a country, we can track your leadership qualities and command presence all the way back to the beginning.

April 5, 2004 (age 2½)

On Saturday we went to a Mexican restaurant in Alameda. We set you up in a high chair—you’re always excited to sit in a high chair, probably for no other reason than you associate it with tasty food—and then I went off to wash my hands. I came back and, on a lark, decided to sit next to your mom, across from you. This was the first time you’d ever eaten in a restaurant without one of us sitting right next to you. It was a busy, loud place, and it was a big table (I seem to remember it was a picnic-style table, though the precise memory is already fading), and you looked very far away. Frankly, it was kind of a bittersweet moment, seeing you all the way over there and yet knowing it was okay. I asked you if you liked sitting all by yourself, just in case you didn’t. But you did, and in fact seemed to relish your independence. You behaved beautifully throughout the meal. You carefully drank your water through a straw, didn’t play in it like usual, and didn’t spill it even after the waiter refilled it to the brim. Your mom made you a burrito, which you carefully ate, like a burrito, instead of dissecting it on the table and scattering its innards to the four winds. Between bites, you even wiped your mouth with a napkin. And perhaps the most heartachingly diligent thing you did was to periodically rearrange, with great care, your fork and knife on a pristine, folded paper napkin. The pleasure you were getting from your “big girl” behavior was quite evident. As pleased as I am with your new abilities—of which I’m suddenly keenly aware, as if for the first time, since it’s been such a gradual progression—it heightens my awareness of how quickly you’re growing up, and I want to cling to you just as you are. As much as I look forward to every new development, every new phase of your life, I can already tell that every new minute will be packed with longing for every minute of your past. The emotional impact of raising you is difficult to describe.

June 1, 2004 (age 2¾ )

Some time ago, I was lying in the bunk bed waiting for you to take to your nap (you’d begged me to stay: “Bunk bed five minutes!”) and you asked for a song. So on a whim, I trotted out an old Bruce Springsteen number from the eighties that I’d somehow inadvertently memorized. It’s from “Born in the USA,” an album your Grandma Judy bought shortly after she divorced my dad. I always interpreted that act as an attempt to suddenly become younger and more hip, more date-worthy. After that phase was over, my mom stopped listening to the tape, and I kept it, even though I’d never really liked it much (finding it embarrassing, frankly).

Anyway, I started singing “Downbound Train,” adjusting some of the lyrics. I figured it has a train, a car wash, and crying in it, all of which are things you have strong feelings about, and sure enough, as soon as I was done, you asked for it again, and it’s become a staple. Your mom has pointed out that just about all of the lyrics in that song (indeed, the entire Springsteen canon) are simple enough for a two-year-old to understand. There isn’t a single complicated word in there. So you can sing along now. Mainly what we do is this: I get to the end of a line, and pause to let you fill in the last word:
              “I had a ...”
              “I had a ...”
              “I had things going, mister, in this ...”
              “I got laid off, down at the ...”
              “Lumber yard.” (Note that through this song, you now have a general sense of what layoffs are, so you can relate somewhat when I talk to your mom about the massive layoffs my employer is perpetrating.)
              “Then I’ll admit, things got...”
And so it goes in this vain, until the climactic scene, where I sing, “And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and...”
              “Cried!” You deliver this word with the depth of feeling that can only come from a literal crybaby. You even hang your head as you utter it. It’s a beautiful thing.

August 10, 2004 (age almost-3)

Your force of will continues to amaze me. Whatever we want, you instinctively go for the opposite. For example, a bit ago I tried to put a diaper on you before bed. “No want the horsey!” you screamed. This was in regard to the animal depicted on the diaper. To what extent should we indulge you? I err on the side of indulgence, having had my own wishes routinely ignored as a kid. “What kind of diaper do you want?” I asked. “Um . . . how about a . . . raccoon diaper,” you replied. I grabbed a raccoon diaper, then theorized that you’d change your mind again, and grabbed a squirrel diaper. I finished putting it on you, and sure enough, you cried, “No want a raccoon diaper, I want a squirrel diaper!” I replied, “Well look, Alexa, that’s what I put on you!” You craned your neck to check. You looked at me in disbelief, unable to fathom my sleight-of-hand.

December 15, 2004 (age 3)

I got a nasty electric shock from the Christmas tree lights the other day. I’d been lying on my back, lazily lolling, [our cat] Misha on my chest, while your mom was getting out the ornaments and lights and such. I started unraveling two twisted-together strands of lights, which were plugged in and showing signs of defectiveness: half of each strand was out. Suddenly it seemed as though the cat were attacking me, sinking a claw deep into my neck. Even after she jumped off my chest, I could still feel her claw in my neck; sometimes a cat’s claw gets stuck. But when she was at least four feet away and I could still feel that claw, I realized something else was going on. A bulb was stuck to my neck, shocking me! Your mom pulled the lights off of me, and I jumped up, cursing. You started bawling. It really shook you up! You comforted me for awhile, continually asking what happened. Very compassionate. A day or two later, you asked who shocked me. “It was an accident,” I said. You replied sternly, “A shock is never an accident.” So I guess you’ll grow up to be a personal injury lawyer! (I realized later that you were paraphrasing your mom telling you, “Hitting is never an accident!”)

May 15, 2005 (age 3½)

I asked you if you were hungry. “Yeah, my stomach is a bit low,” you said.

June 8, 2006 (age 4¾)

Yesterday evening I was very tired and lay down on my back on the floor of the living room. Lindsay [age 2] lay down next to me for awhile, and then (in my half-asleep state) I came to realize she was now up, standing near me, arguing with you about a toy. I was trying to wake the rest of the way up and will myself upright when I heard you exclaim, excitedly, “Look, Lindsay’s vomiting!” I thought you must have been joking, but you weren’t. She was vomiting on the rug, making bright pink puddles in three or four different places. I told her to try to vomit on the wood floor, not the rug. Hearing this, you immediately ran off. I became aware of what you were doing when you asked me how to spell “vomit.” You had drawn a picture of a child, and with yellow ink had added a bunch of scribbles down her front. “That yellow stuff, that’s vomit,” you explained. You wrote “NO VOMIT” and then (after getting the spelling from me), “ON RUG.” Then you asked how to spell “allowed.” I pointed out that you didn’t have much room to write it. To my surprise, you recovered from having started in the wrong place by writing backward, from the right edge of the page back toward the left. Not only did you spell the word backward— “DEWOLLA”—but you wrote each letter backward. I held it up to the mirror: “ALLOWED.” Perfect. You finished the picture by circling the vomit-covered child and putting a slash through the circle.

February 13, 2007 (age 5)

I have only recently noticed you saying “animal” correctly. I think I’ll sort of miss “aminal.” Eventually you’ll say everything correctly, and next thing I know you’ll be out of the house, grown up, and on your own. Sniff.

September 5, 2007 (age almost-6)

This morning I took you to school, with Lindsay in the stroller. We got a bit of a late start (surprise, surprise!) and it didn’t help that we fell in behind a pair of chatty moms who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that it was almost 8:30 already and we still had a pretty long stretch of Santa Fe Street to go. One of the kids was in your class, and seemed as oblivious to the time as his mom. Eventually I decided we had to pass them. This was tricky because one of the moms was also pushing a stroller. I saw a patch of navigable land next to the sidewalk and said, “Okay Alexa, now!” You busted a move down the side and I followed you. To Lindsay’s delight, I was running behind with the stroller (front wheels popped up so it wouldn’t get speed-wobble). The mothers must have thought I was absurd, or insane, or perhaps rude, but hey, it’s not good to be late, especially when your kid already seems a bit anxious about school. Anyway, to my delight, your classmate (the one with the chatty mom) construed this as a race and started running. He’d almost gone by you when I yelled, “Go, Alexa!”

Nothing like a race to get your kids to school on time. Now, here’s the remarkable part: you dug deep, and ran really fricking fast. And you took the guy! You didn’t even resort to the weaving you used to do, instinctively trying to take your opponent into the gutter. It was fair and square, and you really opened up your lead on the school’s wheelchair ramp toward the end. You’d shrugged your backpack off—I half expected you to ditch it entirely, but you hung onto it—and you cruised around the corner pretty nonchalantly. We got there right as the bell rang. You got in line, and as I scanned down it for a familiar face I thought, wait, what if we’re at the wrong door? Of course I know what the right door is, but I guess those old childhood anxieties die hard. I recognized one of your classmates and was reassured.

May 7, 2009 (age 7½)

I have a BlackBerry, which is a “smart phone” that does e-mail and stuff. You seem quite intrigued by it. I was riding you to school on my bike recently and could hear it beeping in my pocket, and I commented that it was probably going to phone somebody up by accident. You replied, “Daddy, which BlackBerry do you like better: the kind you have, or the touch-screen kind?” Much surprised, I asked you how you know about the touch-screen kind. “You know, from those ... bulletins along the highway.” (You meant billboards, of course.) As much attention as you pay to advertising, I’m really glad we don’t have TV at home.

September 6, 2011 (age almost-10)

Your mom and I have considered putting you in Girl Scouts, and you’ve gone to a couple of their camps, but there is no troop with any places left. Your mom has taken some steps to help start up a Brownie troop, and we’ll see where that goes. Anyway, on the way to a camping trip this past weekend I said to your mom, “You should learn how to pitch our tent without my help, given your new Den Mother role.” I had a cold at the time, and what you and Lindsay heard was “dead mother role.” After the predictable surprise, confusion, and clarification, you commented, “‘Dead mother roll sounds like a new kind of sushi.’”

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