Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recently

Monsoons, trains, tropical slip and slides, babies acting like ladies, you know, the usual. 










Sunday, October 19, 2014

Monsoon

It hasn't stopped raining in three days.

I underestimated the power of the monsoon or what it meant to experience it and, too, the difference between a monsoon and rain.

I don't even think that Chennai is supposed to get monsoon rains like the rest of India knows. I was under the impression Chennai received little or not monsoon, with the rain mostly falling to the west of the Nilgiri Mountains, in Kerala and Karnataka states. In Tamil class back in Washington, I remember listening to newcasts that were (and still are) completely incomprehensible. Our instructor explained to us that the governments of Tamil Nadu and Kerala states feuded often over water. The rain fell in Kerala, but flowed to Tamil Nadu, unless the Kerala state government dammed the rivers or otherwise diverted the flow back to their own side of the sub-continent. The federal government was supposed to get involved. I don't know if they ever did.

The skies darkened on Friday afternoon as though night were falling, and that is when the rain began. It hasn't stopped yet.

I drove home from work through rivers both literal and figurative. Half the population commutes on motor scooter, and people rode home in the rain, hair stuck to their foreheads and temples in jet black threads. Wet jeans, wet shoes, wet shirts. Women hiking up their saris to forge recently appeared streams. We need new windshield wipers on the car (we never have need to use them), and I saw all this through a distorted wet streak on the windshield.

Yesterday, Saturday morning, I woke early to run. The rain pattered outside, and I was torn, wanting badly just to lie in bed and listen to the spray of the rain against our bedroom windows, but knowing I would be mad at myself later if I didn't take the opportunity to run when I could. I slowly popped my eyes in and pulled my Nikes on, and flipped the treadmill on with a beep.

I started slow, but at least I started. Thunder grew louder outside, until--exactly at the two mile mark--a clap of thunder startled me mid-stride, and I did a little skip on the spinning belt. I switched the machine off, and ran up the stairs, the soles of my sneakers squeaking on the marble.

As I reached the top of the stairs, I heard her.

Clem.

It was 5:30, but the lightning at started Pete and Sam out of bed, too. Sweaty, shirtless, I hoisted Clementine from her crib and held her close. My sweat soaked her blanket, but she didn't seem to care. "Thunder scared me," she told me.

Better two miles, I told myself, than none at all.

It rained all day. Sundar came to work around 9:00, a drowned rat even though he had taken the bus instead of his two-wheeler. We drove to Sangeetha for breakfast. Later, the boys sailed paper boats in the lake in our front yard, the entire house is surrounded by water, as though a moat.

Yesterday afternoon, Elise and I drove to the mall. Somehow, we had timed our departure from the house to coincide with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's return to Chennai. In the soap opera drama that is Tamil Nadu politics, she was recently found guilty of charges of accumulating disproportionate funds (a nice way, I suppose, of describing corruption) in a Bangalore court and sentenced to four years in jail. She was there a month before her sentence was suspended by the Supreme Court.

The streets were lined with her followers--decked out head to toe in white shirts and dhotis--cheering in the rain. bands beat drums and played. News trucks, satellite dishes pointed to the sky, crowded Poe's Garden in front of the Chief Minister's residence. The streets were closed, but somehow Sundar needles is way in which, though embarrassing (I wouldn't be surprised if our car made it onto the local news), did prove to be the fastest route to the mall.

There, Elise (finally) got a chance to do some shopping she had been wanting to do without three kids clinging to her. A new Krispy Kreme recently opened at Express Avenue mall, and we said "Why not?", bought a dozen to bring home to the kids and had two signature glazed for ourselves, a rare treat, light as air and just as sweet.

This morning as I woke, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance, a reminder that the rain, not knowing if it was coming or going, was still falling. Clementine had woken at 4:30 and somehow ended up in our bed, sleeping on my face.

Knowing some proactive parenting was in order to keep the kids from killing themselves and driving Elise and I up the wall, I initiated "Dad School", an impromptu set of lessons mostly meant to keep them from going stir crazy.

After breakfast, everyone got dressed ("Hurry, Lulu! You're going to be late for class!"), then headed down for math lessons. I printed out work sheets for Pete, coloring pages for Clementine, and Sam did math word problems on my computer.

After math, was P.E. We stretched, did jumping jacks, then I helped them through their sit-ups and pull-ups before getting them on the treadmill. I was trying to run them. It worked on everyone, except Pete who, as usual, didn't nap. Sam and Pete ran a quarter mile each. Clementine made it 0.03 miles in one minute!

After P.E., was snack, cookie butter sandwiches. This mostly ended Dad School as we had to run to the store, then drove through most of Alwarpet in the rain in search of samosas.

Sunday morning ended with me bottling a stout I had brewed two Sundays ago. Sam and Clem will be waking from their naps soon. The rain has stopped...for the moment. The skies are still dark, dark gray and could open up again any minute.

Oh. Wait a sec. Yup...

They just did. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Super Friends

The kids fall rightly by their love for art and drawing. Sam has always been our artist, but Peter has proven with his latest "Super Friends Saturday Draw-Fest" that he too has an eye for design and for the incredible. It makes me happier than good grades, or a finished plate of broccoli. A gift of expression that no one can ever take away. Let them take the broccoli. I give you (from his memory): The Super Friends.

Superman

Zan & Jayna

Gleek

Green Lantern, Super Woman & The Flash

The Super Friends (Look closely for the invisible jet, by Paul)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Parenting




"Don’t just parent for the future, parent for this evening. Your child probably won’t get into the Ivy League or win a sports scholarship. At age 24, he might be back in his childhood bedroom, in debt, after a mediocre college career. Raise him so that, if that happens, it will still have been worth it." -Full article here.



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Best Day Off Ever

Back in June--before we had gone back to the States for four weeks of R&R--I had requested yesterday off with plans of making Columbus Day weekend a four-day weekend. A few weeks ago, as my boss was making the schedule, she asked me if I was off on Friday.

I replied, "No.Why?"

"Because you requested it off."

"I did?"

I had forgotten that I had asked for it off. So we made plans to go out of town, drive a few hours south to visit the old Dutch fort at Tranquebar and see the temples in Tanjavur, maybe spend a few nights at a hotel by the sea, swimming in the pool and sitting in the bar. But we've had to pull back the last couple of months; we kicked our renter out of our townhouse in Jupiter in hopes of selling it. We have a contract and a closing date, but we've had a contract and a closing date before...I am remaining cautiously optimistic.

Instead of packing up the car and heading south along the coast, I got up as normal and washed the dishes, made breakfast for the kids, and packed Pete and Sam lunches. I walked Sam to the school bus and dropped Pete off at pre-school. Elise and Clem came with me and we went straight to Sangeetha for a breakfast of idly, vada, pongal, sumbar and chutneys--coriander, tomato, and coconut, the usual triumvirate.

Afterwards, the three of us went straight to a handcraft store on Anna Salai. On the way, stopped at a traffic signal, Sundar plucked at the back hairs sprouting from beneath the collar of my shirt and said, "Lots of hair. Very healthy." I am not quite sure what we were talking about, but I am positive his comment was a non sequitur. I was speechless, and Elise giggled to herself from the back seat. He continued--in true Sundar fashion, "Muslim men very hairy. Very bad smell."

Ok. Wow, Sundar.

After shopping, we headed home, and Clementine went down for nap. I picked Pete up from school, and the two of us played legos for most of the afternoon, until it was time for my weekly Spanish call. I am trying to leverage my Portuguese proficiency into official recognition by my employer of some fluency in Spanish; we will soon begin thinking of our next assignment beyond India. Something closer to the Western Hemisphere--maybe less than a 24 hour flight--might be nice. Mexico? Lima? Madrid?

I spent 45 minutes talking in Spanish about coffee. As soon as I hung up the phone, I cracked open a beer and poured Elise a glass of wine. I microwaved dinner for the kids and Elise and I. All in all it was the best day off since I skipped class sophomore year of high school and ate fried chicken behind the Chasewood Publix.

I don't know what it was about that year, but it was by far one of the hardest of my youth. I was disconsolate. I remember sitting in algebra on the verge of tears, missing my mom badly, wanting to be anywhere but in class. It was the second time I remember going to counselling. She sent me to talk to minister at the Methodist church we used to go to. I don't remember what we talked about, but I do remember that when I met with a counselor after my mom and dad got divorced (perhaps court-ordered?) we talked mostly about Chewbacca and I put together the same block puzzles I put together in fourth grade to get into the elementary school gifted program.

I skipped school often. Mostly with Tom Glucksmann and Thad Ryan. Sometimes, by myself. We walked along canal banks, through backyards, played on playgrounds in the middle of the day. As mentioned, we would end up at Publix, pool our lunch money and buy sodas and a box of fried chicken and sit behind the grocery store by the dumpster, then head back to school grounds just in time to take the bus home.

Those weren't happy times. I don't have fond memories of Thad or Tom. They teased me endlessly, and in retrospect, I don't quite know why they let me hang around with them...or why I wanted to hang around them. Even then, I guess I suspected on some level that they liked or respected me, but didn't know how to show it. I think Tom is know teaching in the Bahamas. Thad fell off a ladder in a stock room in a Manhattan Restoration Hardware after dropping out of law school and died. I found this out shortly after moving back to Florida from Colorado.

Sophomore year was a locus of emotional ennui; just offshore, the sea floor buckled and pushed up against the ocean, and a tsunami of sorrow washed over my little hamlet. I took days off, but it didn't help. Not like now. Things improved. I found swimming, and put high school behind me as quickly as possible.

Work as been hard; we have been busy, and a difficult summer transfer season has taken a toll on office morale, but it is nothing like it was sophomore year of high school, and unlike then, there is nothing that work can throw at me that an unplanned day off can't cure. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Coming together when we're falling apart.

Kids grow up. News flash! They become people, with minds and feelings and needs. I knew this, I did, I just don't think I was prepared for it quite yet, not at six.

Sam has always been my heart and soul and this year hasn't been easy on our relationship. He's growing up so fast while I've been grasping desperately to my footing and climbing, I finally feel like I'm climbing, but I'm fighting for my independence right along with Sam. Not from my kids or my family which I am more comfortable immersed in, but from the infant stage, where I can now go and work for a morning, or a day and feel perfectly comfortable leaving the kids with Paul or with our nanny.

He's going through things, learning to read, staying awake through first grade, riding the bus two hours a day, making friends, making decisions, finding enough time to play and spend with his dad and keep his stuff away from his brother and sister and become his own person and on and on and on. I'm going through stuff, too. Learning to live in India, learning to raise kids in India, to be a successful mom, a successful wife, a successful photographer, a healthy person a good friend and good person. 

I used to know everything about Sam or I felt like I did. I knew when he last ate and who he played with and when he used the bathroom. Now I don't and that is ok, but that doesn't come without a little stretch of the heart. I felt the tugs of it this summer, the Braxton Hicks of the eventual birth of a baby into a boy.  

We haven't hung out much lately, Sam and I. He doesn't tell me much about school and I am not great at prying it out of him. He walks in the door cranky, hungry and exhausted. We eat dinner, we do baths and the kids drop into their beds just before I do. I've missed Sam lately and it has been no fault of his and no fault of mine, even though I can't find anyone else to blame except life's bends and curves so I blame myself. 

I had the best mom ever. She worked full time as a teacher and she was still the best mom ever. Most days I don't think I hold a candle to the job she did with us and I am home with the kids,  for the kids all day long. I'm sure it all adds up, but math has never been my strong suit. I see in pictures and shapes and some days I struggle to make this photograph pretty. My mom's 40% of the day with us was 100% of her effort. My 100% of the day with my kids is spread between 24 hours and looks a little thin and runny to me most days.  I have even less of the day with Sam and need to kick it up right as our family is trying to wind down and that makes for a struggle. I'm trying, though you guys, I'm trying so hard. I am a perfectionist and I am a realist and I often can't make the two meet up. I want to be the best I can be without being to much without them thinking they have to be perfect, too. I want to let them swim without their life jackets, close to my ship, but be able to grab them quickly if they are in trouble. I want to turn off my beacon intermittently and make sure they can find their way home if I'm not there, but I don't want them to get lost or fail. I was so tired the first six months here that it became easier to just float along, but that is how families fall gently apart. Which we refuse to.

This week is India week at Sam's school.  Yesterday our housekeeper came early to care for Clementine and to take Peter to school. She knew how important it was for me to go and watch Sam's program and not be distracted. So I jumped on Sam's bus with him yesterday morning - for the first time - and rode the long ride to school. He let me sit by him and we talked a little. He wore the kurta and pants I bought him for his school performance and he posed for pictures outside the front door. When we arrived at school he ran through the turnstiles of the school and down the hall through the crowd to his classroom. I had forgotten my badge to buzz myself in and he forgot he was going to help me in. I tried to keep up once I made it through, I spotted him down the hall hanging up his backpack, then running off to recess. He saw me, turned back for just a second and said "Bye mom! I have recess." I waved goodbye, but just before he got to the end of the corridor he turned back toward me, running. He hugged me goodbye at the door to his classroom where I'd stood watching him run away. He hugged me so hard I almost fell over. Then he started to walk away, but came back and hugged me again and then once again. He grabbed my face in his two hands and kissed me, told me he loved me and then ran off. 

He bounded in for his program and sat a few rows in front of me. He danced the most beautiful dance and sang nearly all the words in Tamil, even though none of the other children were singing. He caught my eye during the dance a time or two. Eyes as bright as the stage lights, the colors of tiny saris and kurtas. 

After the show he waved me up to take his picture in the courtyard with his class. He waited for me and held my hand. When the photos were taken and the kids headed back to class he grabbed me again, like I was about to jump on an airplane back to reality, but I didn't. 

Last night he read to me from his "Monster Trucks!" I Can Read book. He read words like "exhaust" and "dangerous." He told me all about the rest of his day. I told him how proud I was of him and he hugged me goodnight.






My Father, the Fisherman

Recently someone asked me about my dad and I described him as a fisherman.

The response was unconscious, really. It just fell out, like a Freudian slip, and I surprised myself as I said it, because I had always thought of my dad first as a businessman, and I always though it anyone had ever asked me about my dad that is the first thing I would say, "He is a successful businessman."

The response, perhaps, best captures the gradual transformation he is undertaking. Many men retire. One day they are working, the next they are not. There may be a party, formal recognition of one's achievements, the ceremonial packing up of the office into a cardboard box with one's personal effects.

But not my dad. His 'retirement' has been gradual. Every week, every month, every year, he sells off one more shopping center, whittles down his staff by one more person, goes in one hour later, or doesn't go in at all one more day a week.

In theory, he still has an office somewhere. I am not sure where. Since, I stopped working for him in 2010 it has been as hard for me to keep track of his work as it has been for me to keep track of my own job, change my three kids' diapers, make them meals, pay their preschool tuitions and still find time to be an attentive and dutiful husband to my wife. But when I do talk to him, I always try to make a point of asking him about work. Is he working on anything? The answer is usually no, but every once in awhile he may tell me he is tying up a piece of land to try to put an Autozone on or working on a lease for a new tenant at his property in Jupiter. When I used to call, it was easy to get him in his office. When I call now, I miss him a lot because he is out on his boat.

The truth is my dad has always been both a fisherman and a businessman. I never thought of the two persons as mutually exclusive of one another, but in my mind, these two people are very different and when I told someone my dad was a fisherman, it became immediately difficult to reconcile that person with the man who once drove a Porsche 911, wore Carrera sunglasses, and owned half of the leasable square footage in Palm Beach County.

I have old photos of my dad, a lean man with a big nose, big glasses, and big ears holding a gaff with a dolphin just plucked from the sea. In short, he has always been a fisherman. That is to say, he has always been both a fisherman and businessman, and I have memories of going out on his boat as a child fishing.

This was a big part of my growing up. I didn't become a fisherman. I don't know why; it is complex. Sometimes, I was seasick. Sometimes, I was just bored. Sometimes, we caught fish. Many times, we didn't. But I kept going. These are some of my fondest memories of my time with my dad, especially our trips to the Bahamas.

I don't have a lot of memories of my dad sitting down to play with me. Maybe the opportunity didn't present itself. Maybe he wasn't that into legos. I don't know. I have a lot of memories of my dad growing up, but they are mostly of me doing with him the things he loved. Like fishing.

Growing up, my brothers and I were shuttled back and forth between our two divorced parents. I spent every other weekend with my dad. I don't remember how old I was, but I have a very distinct memory of my dad taking us to the gym, it was a Nautilus club, with all Nautilus machines when work-out machines first came into vogue as an alternative to free weights.

My brothers and I sat on the bench, watching my dad work out. We may have colored or read books, but we most certainly didn't have an iPad or Gameboy to keep us occupied.

We spent a lot of time with my dad. He took us places. He took us out to dinner. He took us fishing. I try to spend a lot of time with my kids now, hoping they will one day remember that I spend time with them, too. But I don't fish and I don't have a lot of hobbies. I like the idea of hobbies. I think I haven't had time for hobbies because I've been so focused on parenting, but I think a time is coming soon when the two will merge. I know the boys are dying to do stuff with me. Moreover, I strongly suspect they are dying to do stuff I like to do, too.

Don't get me wrong. I love to build legos as much as they next guy, but my role is mostly the searching out of hidden pieces, the mindless sifting through thousands of seemingly identical bricks, and I don't know how much more my knees can take.

I can't wait for the day we will all get to go camping, hiking, rock-climbing, and skiing. I know it is soon. I hope they want to run with me, even if it means riding their bike or scooter next to me. My dad was not a runner; he was a jogger, but I run now, because he jogged then.

My sons (and daughter) won't have a lot of memories of fishing with their father, but--hopefully--they will have lots of great memories of doing other stuff with him. Brewing beer comes to mind. I know there will be more.

And they may even think of their dad as not only a diplomat, but also as someone else.