How my teen son and I found patience in the woods

My 14-year-old son, Jacob, has a pretty sweet deal this summer. He’s at that awkward age where he’s too old for most camps, and too young for a real job so there’s no natural place for him to be on summer days.

His travel baseball schedule demands he be home by 4pm to get ready for games or practices most nights in July. Last summer was the first without the structure of day camp and he and his intrepid friends started a business doing yard work, babysitting, animal care, and other odd jobs during the day.

It kept him busy enough and put more than $300 in his pocket, allowing him to purchase his own iPhone, plus the insurance and part of his monthly bill. What parent could argue with that kind of spunk?

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Jacob’s business flyer. Love how they use “high school freshmen” as a selling point.

The boys of “A Helping Hand” are back at it this month, but when they don’t have a job, there’s too much down time for my comfort. Wilson and I require Jacob to read every day for an hour, work on his blog ( at least twice a week, and do chores around the house so he doesn’t turn into a lazy slug.

So far, so good. There’s certainly been plenty of sleeping late, bike riding around town with the fellas, and eating many, many, many Taylor Ham, egg,and cheese sandwiches at Bagel Chateau. But that’s what summer’s for, no?

Last week I was meeting my friend, Holland, to take our weekly run on a path in the South Mountain Reservation, and decided Jacob needed some exercise. He was not psyched to haul his ass out of bed (he had stayed up too late watching a Criminal Minds marathon on OnDemand) but I gave him no choice.

We did our usual 4-5 mile loop– us chatting away, Jacob tuning us out with his iPhone music)– but when we got to the end of the run we decided to walk another loop. It was hot and humid and Jacob preferred to rest. I was cool with that, gave him some water and left him by the parked car.

As I walked way I tossed him the keys and said casually, “If you get too hot, just turn the car on and run the air for a bit.”

BIG mistake.

When we came back about 35 minutes later, he was sitting in the car with the air blasting. That dope turned the car on and ran the air for the entire time we were gone, draining the battery.

The car wouldn’t start.

Granted, this is a 2002 Suburu Outback on its last legs. (I’d like to trade it in and get a pre-owned car but Wilson is digging his heels in. We will likely drive that dinosaur until it becomes extinct on an open road somewhere. I just pray it’s not me driving when that happens. But I digress.)

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Jacob calling Wilson for advice. (He was useless and told us to call AAA.)

Have I mentioned before that I grew up in the city and didn’t get my license until I was 25? Or that I then never used said license until I moved to NJ when I was 34?

Yeah, I’m not an experienced driver.

I got angry at Jacob for about two minutes. Then I realized that he had no idea how a car works and didn’t know you’re not supposed to run an old, decrepid Suburu without the engine on for 35 minutes straight. He didn’t even know the car had a battery. How could I get pissed when he had no clue?

Holland had jumper cables so after some very girly attempts at opening the hood and gazing into the abyss of a car engine, we found the battery. It was extremely corroded as you can see here.

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We couldn’t find the red and black plugs you need to hook up the cables, and none of the three of us were willing to stick our heads in there to try. I didn’t panic.  I have AAA.

Or so I thought.

When I called, it turned out the credit card on file had expired and our service had run out. One week prior.

Luckily, I was 5 days within the extended renewal period and gave them a credit card over the phone and the driver promised to be there within an hour. Holland offered to drive Jacob home but there was no way I was going to wait in the woods by myself, stewing over his mistake while he ate another Taylor ham bagel and watched Sports Center in my air-conditioned house.

So we sat and flipped through some People magazines and talked. My survival instincts kicked in and I tried not to use my phone or drink too much of my water just in case we were there for more than an hour. (God forbid I couldn’t check Twitter or hydrate on command.)

While he normally would have been furious, brooding, annoyed and spiteful, Jacob felt guilty that he caused the problem so he was actually quite delightful. I decided to take a Zen attitude towards the situation. I pointed out that we were lucky we weren’t freezing cold, on a dangerous highway, or late for work or a concert. We were also fortunate to be able to pay for AAA and whatever repairs we needed.

We were hot, sweaty and stuck. But there are always two ways to see every situation and I figured this was a teaching moment about what to do when your car dies, and how to stay calm and patient when faced with a challenge beyond your control.

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Bobby had no luck getting the car started.

Exactly one hour later,  Bobby the AAA dude, showed up with his giant tow truck. He tried to jump the car and determined it would not start, so he towed us to our repair place in town.

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What are you gonna do? We made the best of an annoying situation.

We had to take everything in the trunk (baseball bag, bag of dirty clothes for cleaners, my heavy purse) and carry it home on our backs. As we trudged up the hill in the heat, Jacob said, “Well at least we got some quality time together, Mom!”

I was thinking the same thing, but wouldn’t have dared to say it out loud to my impatient, perpetually annoyed teenager.  Glad he said it first.

P.S. The battery was dead and we needed some new parts but the AAA tow was free with our plan and the repair bill was only $190. Not too bad.

Some questions for you more experienced drivers. Was there more I could do to test the battery before calling AAA? Did I need to tip Bobby for his help?  Is it worth it to purchase jumper cables to keep in the trunk if I’m too afraid to use them?

I’d love to hear your advice and similar experiences in the comments.

My Listen to Your Mother video is online! (Can you tell I was nervous?)

Remember my post about how sickeningly anxious I was to appear on stage reading a piece I wrote at the Listen to Your Mother show?

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Listen to Your Mother is an annual staged reading event performed before a live audience where people share experiences about motherhood.  It started out in one small town in Wisconsin and has grown to 32 cities across the U.S. I was honored to be chosen to read in the first North Jersey show in May.

But I was as uptight as a grasshopper in a shoebox about getting up in front of 450 people at the South Orange Performing Art Center. Despite the weeks of hand-wringing leading up to the performance, on show day I was excited to be part of such a special evening.

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Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

The audience went gaga for the show. Friends and strangers who didn’t have to say anything at all, told me in the days afterwards how much they loved hearing the stories. In our cast, we had 13 women and two men. They ranged in age from teenager to grandma and the topics varied, making the evening a roller coaster of emotions.

We laughed, we cried, it was much better than Cats.

This week the national peops at LTYM finally released the reading videos onto their site via YouTube. It would be crass of me to demand you watch mine, but if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably curious.

You can see it here.

But even if you don’t want to watch my bit, do yourself a favor and watch C.J. Prince’s “The Pump.” I had heard it twice before the show and still laughed until tears threatened to trash my mascara. It’s that funny.


courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

There are others I could pick out as favorites but that wouldn’t be fair to my castmates. The truth is, they’re all great and worth your time. You don’t have to watch all at once. Savor them like a box of fancy chocolates with mysterious centers. Open up a couple a night and enjoy the surprise.

Let me know which are your favorites in the comments. Happy watching!


Can copying celebrity lifestyles make you happier?

Ever look at the celebrities in Us magazine and find yourself wishing you could have those legs, that dress, that career, that vacation, maybe even that husband?  I’ll admit to a little star envy, and I know I’m not alone.

Paparazzi photos and Vanity Fair spreads make that life look so appealing. Author Rachel Bertsche is willing to admit to coveting celebrity lifestyles, and couldn’t help but wonder if adopting their habits wouldn’t make her as happy as the toned, glowing glamor gals she was ogling seemed to be.

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In Bertsche’s new book, Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me, she chooses her favorite traits of 8 celebrities and adapts them into her own life. She tries to exercise like Jennifer Aniston, eat and cook like Gwyneth Paltrow, dress like Sarah Jessica Parker, and work like Tina Fey.

She also aims to model her marriage after Jennifer Garner, meditate like Julia Roberts, and balance professional and personal success like Beyonce.

Here’s an excerpt on how it went:

There may be some readers who find the idea of taking life advice from celebrities questionable, but Berstche — a journalist and former editor at Oprah Winfrey’s magazine — creates a voice that is self-deprecating and relatable. She knows her target female audience, and her research and writing skills make it an easy read.

Throughout the book, Bertsche asks why women (including herself) are fascinated by celebrities and often see them as role models. Each of the eight chapters focuses on one celebrity’s particular assets and expertise, in an area the author would like to tackle to lift her self-esteem.

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Who hasn’t envied Jen’s arms and legs?

“A complete overhaul is too overwhelming. You don’t always know where to start. Comparing yourself to others isn’t necessarily the healthiest method of self-improvement but if it’s impetus to get started, is that so wrong?” Bertsche asks.

Bertsche is thoughtful about her goals in the project, honest about her successes and failures, and reflective about the results. 

Taking cues from stars’ lifestyles posed challenges. It’s easy to complain that stars have more money and access, but Bertsche gets creative by bartering babysitting and copy writing for a gym membership, and modifying recipes and clothing choices to save money.

Bertsche’s experiment also suggests that even the fabulous are flawed. When trying to follow Gwyneth Paltrow’s food rules and cooking techniques, Bertsche points out the unrealistic amount of time and money the actress’ habits require, and fails her seven-day detox cleanse after two days of drinking a smoothie that tastes like “sweet earwax.”

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Some love to hate her but you can’t deny her beauty!

Bertsche offers some valuable tips — from how to create a signature style to how to nail Tina Fey’s work ethic (hint: boycott social media and always carry a notebook). But the chapters on simulating the spark in Jennifer Garner’s marriage to Ben Affleck, and following Julia Roberts’ way of meditating to get more Zen, seem like guesswork.

You can read the rest of the review here.

I don’t think I would ever do what Bertsche did, especially in the pursuit of personal happiness. And Wilson would never have gone for it. Her husband is a saint to put up with 8 months of those celebrity shenanigans.

But I like Bertsche being the guinea pig and reporting back about it. Her thoughts on our obsession with celebrity culture throughout the book are interesting and worth a read.

That’s if you can admit to yourself that you might have once wished you had Sarah Jessica’s closet, or Aniston’s abs.

Tell me what you think about Bertsche’s celebrity emulating in the comments.

My kids are moving on and I’m a mess

Forgive me if I babble here, but I’m a puddle because my boys (ages 8, 11, and 14)  graduated from their three schools this week.

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So long Marshall!

Every day I woke up with anxiety and a nagging feeling I forgot something.

I remembered to buy teacher gifts, bake brownies for the class celebration, make dip for the graduation party, pick up meds from the school nurse, collect money for the school bus driver, and clean out the lunch boxes and backpacks.

But I’m worried I’ll forget what it feels like to have kids this age.

It’s all moving faster than a middle school rumor, and I can’t keep up.

The kids are completely fine with it. Psyched, in fact. Shouts of “WOOHOO!” and “SUUUUMMMER!!” echo through the house.

But I can’t stop the lumpy throat and splashy tears, wishing I could just put everything on pause for a few days, until my feelings catch up with how quickly my boys are growing up and moving on.

I always get like this at this time of year. I’m really not good with change. Or kids getting older. Or me getting older. All of it makes my heart hurt if I think about it for too long.

You may be surprised to know that when I was younger, my friends referred to me as “heard-hearted Hannah,” because I never cried at the usual girly stuff. I wasn’t sensitive, and probably not in touch with my feelings.

But becoming a mother split me open and turned me into a big sap.

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Last Friday, I attended 8-year-old Eli’s publishing party where he and his peers read an original story under a tree in a classmate’s backyard. Then the class sang songs, and each student thanked another for friendship, helping, or being a good role model, while placing a medal around their little necks.

That’s when the weeping began.

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Monday, I sobbed through Aden’s 5th grade moving on ceremony. An amazing parent-produced video showing every kid in the class, and many dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy,” somehow made me sad.

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Aden gets a diploma and a big hug from his teacher

They sang Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” and Anna Kendrick’s “Cups/You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” and all their smiling, innocent faces made me want to freeze the moment until the end of time…. Before they get pimples, and fears, and attitudes. Before they feel excluded, and competitive, and say things they don’t mean. Before their parents annoy them, just for existing in the same space.

But middle school looms.

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Aden and pals celebrating

Tuesday morning I put Eli on the bus for the last time. I’ve been waving goodbye from that bus stop for 9 years.

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We’ll miss this crew next year!

I can’t believe that part is over and he’ll be walking to a new school next year.

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I wrote a piece about how much I’ll miss Marshall, his K-2 elementary school for the school website.   You can read it here.

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I’ll miss the camaraderie & gossip at the bus stop

Tuesday afternoon the 5th graders left school for the last time and the rest of the students, teachers, and parents stood in a large circle in front of the school for the annual clap out.

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As they streamed out of the building, high-fiving friends, skipping, and enjoying the victory parade, I wiped away tears, grateful for my large sunglasses.

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Eli got a clap out at his school too. More crying.

Jacob put on an Oxford short and khakis (refused to wear a tie) and gathered his posse for the 8th grade dinner dance Tuesday night.

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I was forbidden from chaperoning so I can only guess there was more talking and texting than dancing and kissing, but that will also change soon.

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And today my oldest son stood in a crowded, stuffy gym and graduated from middle school. He nixed a tie and swapped pants for shorts for the ceremony, but still made us proud earning two academic awards with his diploma.

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How many more milestones can a mom take in one week?!

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He did it!

I’m exhausted and cried out.  I’m done mourning my yummy, little kids, and now focusing on being grateful that my big boys are happy and healthy and doing what they’re supposed to do: grow.

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But check in here in another three years, when Aden and Eli move on again to new schools and Jacob heads into senior year of high school.

I better start stocking up on the Kleenex now.

My Doodle puppy got shaved, and it’s all my fault

You may remember that Wilson and I are new to dog ownership. Neither of us had a dog growing up and our now 11-month-old puppy, Brady, is paying the price of our rookie mistakes.

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Brady wearing a backpack at the bus stop

Things have been going well with Brady. He’s sweet, smart, and very motivated by food so he’s well-trained in most areas–although he still likes to chew on stuff. In the last several months he started to expand, like one of those animal-shaped sponge toys that inflates when you add water.

The last time the vet weighed him, he was 56 pounds, but it seemed like 36 of that was his long, beautiful, white hair. I read the puppy care books, and dutifully brushed him out every few weeks. But I never cut his hair.

Like not even one time in the last 9 months since we got him.

He’d been groomed– brushed and blown out like a movie star– but never cut. I often bathed him myself in the tub or kitchen sink, I picked the disgusting goop out of the hair around his eyes, and cleaned out his ears, but scissors were a stranger to his ever-growing canine shape.

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Brady with a blowout.

It’s hot and I knew his long locks were making him uncomfortable so I made an appointment at the groomer, hoping they’d give him just a trim.

But when the groomer took a close look, under all the white, fluffy hair were thick patches of matted hair, so close to the skin they couldn’t be brushed through or cut without causing him pain and stress and hours of work. Apparently puppy hair falls out and adult hair grows in, kind of like teeth, but when you don’t cut it, all the hair gets twisted together.

He needed to be completely shaved.

You may remember from a previous blog (read it here), that I felt acute anxiety and discomfort when my three boys (ages 8, 11, and 14) wanted a barber to take a razor to their long, lovely tresses. I had similar feelings yesterday when told Brady would be shaved down to the nub.

I felt sick as I drove away from the doggy salon, imagining cartoonish, oversized scissors chopping off his hair as he pleaded and yelped in helpless fear.

Too dramatic?

Maybe, but that was the guilt talking. If only I had taken him in for a cut sooner, or learned how to brush him properly, maybe we could have saved that gorgeous, downy, white coat.

He went from this…..

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To this…..

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Yeah, almost unrecognizable. Sinead O’Connor in a dog.

Of course he’s still sweet, good-natured, playful Brady. Of course it will grow back. But will it be the same silky, soft texture? Will he have that Shaggy DA look that made people stop in the street to pet him and smile?

I hope so.

We put an old size 6 t-shirt on him to make him feel more safe and prevent him from scratching and biting at his skin because it’s such a close cut.  I’m getting used to how he looks but I still feel pangs of guilt and regret every time I see him.

I’m sure he’s much cooler now in this heat. He stayed outside longer today than he had in a while. He’s also easier to walk, at half the size he used to be. Everyone thought he was a big, fat dog, but really he was just really, really furry….like a giant muppet.

Brady seems perfectly happy with his new coat. The groomer warned he might be agitated and feel vulnerable, but he’s the same energetic, playful puppy.

I guess I’ve gotta get over my Samson-like attachment to hair. I know that our insides are more important than our outsides. But I hate unmet potential, and what’s better than a good hair day?

Top 7 Reasons Wilson’s a Great Dad

Happy Father’s Day Dads! It will come as no great shock that my family spent some of the holiday playing baseball — a practice and a game today– and Wilson was happy to oblige.

Does anyone give ties anymore?

Does anyone give ties anymore?

Wilson is a good man. It’s important when you’re raising three boys (ages 8, 11, and 14) to have a strong role model and I feel extremely lucky that my sons have Wilson for a father. They probably won’t realize what a gift that is until they grow up and have their own children.

But I can see it clearly now so thought I’d share some of the reasons he’s a great dad…..

He has the patience of a saint. Unlike me, he so rarely yells at the boys, no matter what shenanigans they’re up to. It’s humbling (and frankly annoying sometimes) but admirable.

– He’s still reading parenting books. When our oldest, Jacob, was born, I used to tease Wilson because he literally carried his baby Bible: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child around from room to room, looking up every squeak, cry, and bodily function. (He was a bit of a nervous nelly back then.) But that guy is still reading parenting books, to better understand every stage our kids are going through as it’s happening. He takes his parenting job seriously.

– He gives great advice. When my boys have a problem they know their dad will listen and help them work through it. It’s not always “Leave it to Beaver”-style problem-solving– there are often loud protests and tears involved– but my kids know that dad will persevere through the theatrics and find a solution or way of handling a tough situation. And even in the quiet moments when there is no issue to tackle, he’ll make a point to tell them something he’s learned about his choices and experiences.

– He’s a wonderful coach. Wilson has been unofficially coaching our boys in all sports since they could walk. But despite a heavy professional workload, he manages to assistant coach their baseball teams every spring and summer, coming home early from the office, devoting scores of Saturdays, even donning tight polyester pants for tournaments. He emphasizes sportsmanship and fun over winning, and never misses an opportunity to teach a lesson from a loss.

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– He’s not nearly as embarrassing as I am. Adolescence has hit big time for our 8th grader and I have become a target of ridicule and irritation. Everything I do or say elicits eye rolls and gasps of disgust. Yet somehow, Wilson has escaped our teen’s ire and remains a neutral figure.

He’s affectionate and communicative. Sometimes it’s hard for men to show love, but Wilson hugs and kisses the boys easily and often. He tells them he loves them so regularly that they say it back without even thinking. These aren’t just Hallmark moments, this is an essential life skill he’s passing onto them that will make them better boyfriends, husbands, and fathers themselves.  I think he learned it from his dad, who still gives great big bear hugs and sloppy kisses to his 40-something year old kid.

He embraces all of his children’s flaws. I’m not sure if he’s so blinded by love and loyalty that he doesn’t see the boys’ warts, or if he consciously chooses to look past them. But when our most stubborn, defiant child is acting up, he refuses to let anger and frustration override compassion. When our most manipulative child finds back doors and sneaks through dirty alleys to get what he wants, Wilson commends his ingenuity and tenacity. When our most dramatic child overreacts to something small, or fans his ego with false praise, Wilson humors him.

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Wilson gets some Dad’s Day love

I’m grateful that Wilson is all these things because he’s helping make three little mensches to send into the world.

As I read through this, I realize I’m putting this guy on a pretty high parenting pedestal.  But fatherhood (like motherhood) can be a thankless job, and you rarely get a review or a raise. So consider this Wilson’s annual review. He deserves a promotion but I bet he’d think there’s no better title than dad.

Best sports accessories for bleacher parents

My dugout devotees are at it again. All three of my boys (ages 8, 11, and 14) are playing rec and summer travel baseball this year, and Wilson is coaching several of their teams.

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Right now, we’re juggling practices and games for six teams. Don’t get me wrong. I really like watching my kids play baseball and I don’t mind being outside for hours in the spring and summer. But you know what they say about too much of a good thing, right? Variety is the spice of life?

Too much baseball can make me cranky.

But all four of my boys love it, so I’ve joined ‘em and found ways to make so many games enjoyable. Making friends with fellow fans is number 1. We look forward to spending time with many baseball families every summer.

Another way is to be prepared. Last year, I wrote a post about the Top 7 best baseball accessories. I’ve updated the items and most of the list works for any sporty family.

It’s quite possible my guys will play as many as 60 games this summer. But I’ll be ready. Read this and you will too!

Cooler for drinks/snacks– Usually peanuts and Cracker Jack don’t cut it. I would not be caught dead without cold drinks and snacks, especially for away games. You never know how long you could be stuck on a field somewhere. I did some research and I like this E-bags Crew Cooler because it’s soft so less heavy, holds a lot, and has several extra compartments for dry snacks and other necessities.

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Tent - It took years of burning in the bleachers before I finally wised up and purchased a tent for shade. After polling mom experts, I chose this Quik Shade tent because it’s easy to put up and transport. I also try to always have sunscreen in the car. If only there were somewhere to plug-in a fan….

quick shade tent on carpoolcandy.comWater bottles-- I’m a big fan of Contigo vacuum-insulated stainless steel water bottles. My friend, fellow baseball mom, and stuff expert, Judy, gave me the heads up on them and they did not disappoint. They keep drinks icy cold for up to 8 hours, even sitting in the hot sun.

Contigo metal water bottle on carpoolcandy.comCooling towel-- I don’t understand how these bright-colored rubbery things work but they do. You wet the Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad in cold water and it miraculously becomes considerably cooler than the outside air, but somehow feels dry. It provides cold relief to players and fans on a hot day and lasts a few hours. When it stops cooling, you can rewet it and use it again. And it’s machine washable– a home run!

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Stadium chair– I have lower back issues so sitting in the bleachers or even on a folding chair for hours is a killer. This stadium chair is pretty light and clamps onto most bleacher types. It was very useful until we somehow lost the back piece in the bowels of our minivan trunk.

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Eye black– For my kids, it’s all about the baseball fashion accessories. My oldest son, Jacob found these personalized eye black stickers, made to block out the sun. But the fact that my kids wear them on cloudy days convinces me they’re just for show. He has some with his jersey number, and some with his team name, but you can create any message you want on the website. They only cost $1 per pair so they make a great gift for sluggers.

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Aden’s eyeblack stickers say “Cougars.” He also has ones with his number.

Evo shields  —  And while we’re talking unnecessary accessories, my boys love these neoprene compression sleeves called Evo shields. They are for any athlete who has a weakened area, like the wrist– and needs extra protection from injury. They also have sleeves that cover almost an entire child’s arm. The website says the tight-fitting sleeve provides enhanced circulation and muscle support to reduce fatigue and improve muscle recovery. But my kids wear them because they think they look cool.

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Umbrella– As they say in Bull Durham, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains….” and a wet fan is an unhappy fan. We always have a golf umbrella in the trunk just in case. It fits nicely in the cup holder of your chair so your hands are free to clap!

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Sunflower seeds-- Food is usually frowned upon in the dugout but there are certain holy snacks permitted and sunflower seeds is probably the most popular. There’s something about spitting and baseball…and nothing eases the strikeout sting like a big bag of seeds. Kids get extra excited about the flavored ones like BBQ, ranch, salsa, nacho cheese, and dill.

David's sunflower seeds on carpoolcandy.comWine tote-- When you’re sick of complaints about the umpire, or need inspiration for extra innings, a little sip can be helpful. This wine tote keeps your bottle from breaking when it knocks up against the batting helmets in the car and keeps your vino at the right temperature. (For non-drivers only.) Also has glasses and a corkscrew and looks discreet, so no one needs to know.  Bleacher boozing is probably against the rules so you didn’t hear this one from me.

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Do you have any favorite sports accessories? Please share in the comments.