Pure Guesswork: Losing the Attitude

The ball felt so good coming off my racquet. Unfortunately, I was intentionally firing it into the ceiling, and it was only five minutes into practice. Not a good start to the evening.


Overall, I’m a fairly rational, considerate person, but I can get a little competitive if the situation calls for it. That worked in my younger days when I had more outlets – and when bruising your thigh while playing air hockey could be seen as something of a badge of honor. Now, however, I have Milo, who’s 20 months old, reaches for something new every day and is still learning how to sleep through the night, which limits both my free time and energy.


But I still like a good game, and I’ll be honest: Whenever I get on any kind of playing field, I don’t just bring it. I bring it hard. And the summer gives me my two chances to tussle.


First is with my slow pitch, co-ed, comedian softball league. It may not sound that intense, primarily because it isn’t, but I still argue with the ump and yell at teammates. It’s mostly all in fun, a chance to bluster into the Tuesday night air. And while I want to win, I also realize that some of my competitors are wearing cargo shorts and fishing hats and will never slide or dive for anything, lest they drop their cigars.


Tennis, though, is a different beast. I started when I was 6 years old and continue to be deluded by possibilities. I play in leagues and for fun, but it can be difficult to discern when I’m having the actual fun. I smack back curtains. I scream unsupportive, impossible suggestions to myself. I’ve mentioned the ceiling thing. And no, I don’t believe any of it has ever, ever, ever made me look like a complete idiot.


Granted, it’s not constant; I don’t cheat, and on occasion, I can enjoy a well-fought defeat. But I still have enough post-match car rides that question shot selection, why I should continue to play and the worthiness of a partner’s existence. My wife, Jenny, knows enough to find out the result beforehand in order to bolster herself with reassuring thoughts and patience.


You’d think that coming home to Milo would help me with letting go, and it does. Eventually. But after a nasty loss, I sometimes have to remind myself that I have a child.


I don’t mind the desire to win, but I’ve never loved my outbursts and overreactions. I love them less now that Milo has become a killer mimic. His skills are fine if he’s following my lead and blowing on breakfast toast, but eventual cries of “Stop playing like such a baby” don’t need to be a family tradition.


What’s been saving me is that my games start after his bedtime, which has given me a chance to change my ways. I’ve been imagining him sitting courtside. It’s not a sudden fix, but his theoretical eyes on me put a tap on the brakes. The best help by far has been our ongoing parental challenge – his irregular nighttime patterns, which have left Jenny and me in a perpetual fog. A recent early morning, complete with a solid two-hour block of not sleeping, left me completely gassed.


That evening I had a match. I ended up playing great, and even better, I behaved myself, mainly because I had no resources to waste on useless antics. Finally, a benefit to my kid’s restlessness. Unfortunately, he’s going to eventually sleep for 12 straight hours, and I’ll be in a major hole.


I suppose I should just focus on self-improvement. And I will – until the playoffs. Then I make no promises about what I’ll do for the team.


Steve Calechman is a freelance writer, stand-up comedian and first-time dad in Salem. Email him at

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28 Jun 2013

By By Steve Calechman