Friday, February 5, 2016

Random Act of Kindness, Part Two

The main purpose behind keeping this journal is to be able to share it with the kids. Someday, hopefully, they will want to read about their exploits as children, see photos of their global adventures, and find interest in the musings of their mother and father. I was fascinated by my dad’s collection of vinyl. In many ways, to me, by listening to his records, I could be transported back to a time of knowing him before I was born as though I were reading through his journal, going back and reading stories he may have forgotten, was unwilling to tell, or didn’t think were significant enough to share. I don’t get a lot from him about the time me and my brothers were the age the kids are now. I’m interested in what was going through his head—my mom’s, too—knowing the era had brought a lot of change. Our kids may not understand the reason we—as parents—do the things we do, make the decisions we make, act the way we do, but, again, hopefully, someday, they might, and also by reading this remember stories of their youth that they had forgotten.

So, I write this for future Sam now, so that he knows why I was so hard on him, why I had such high expectations of him, because I knew how much responsibility he could bear and how kind and thoughtful he had the capacity to be while at the same time pummeling the crap out of his little brother and sister.

We spent the night before we flew from Florida to Spokane at my mom’s house. When we made the original plan, I didn’t fully appreciate that she wasn’t feeling well. We were flying out at the butt-crack of dawn the next morning, but she insisted we stay there anyway, even though I knew she would not be able to drive us to the airport. Elise and Clementine slept in the guest room. Peter slept on an inflatable mattress on the floor of my mom’s bedroom. I slept on the couch. Sam slept with Nanny.

The alarm on my phone quietly warbled at 4:30, but—truth be told—I had probably been awake for much longer before that ungodly hour. I got in the shower before rousing the others. Then, got the kids dressed and a quick bowl of Cheerios in their stomachs before he finished packing the car and heading for the airport. The kids are expert travelers at this point, and their torsos and limbs follow a well-worn muscle memory of early rises, marches to the car, and early-morning drives to the airport, orange blurring out the window as we zoom to the airport. We tried to be as quiet as we could so as not to wake my mom, but—honestly—how quiet can three kids clomping off to the airport and me dragging incredibly heavy suitcases possibly be? I was surprised that my mom never got up to say goodbye. I figured she must have slept through it after all.

Come to find out she was up, but had been too touched by something Sam had done that morning to face us.

In her words, “Without a word, before I reached for my glasses, he handed them to me. He likes to help and like you said almost without thinking sees when and how he can.”

I can see him now and imagine him lying in bed with Nanny, sees her reaching for her glasses and—much as he did on the Washington Mall last weekend—recognizes a need to help and, so quickly as to be nothing other than instinct, jumps and answers the call. Like a super-hero. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Windows to the Brain

There’s been little question for some time that Peter has a unique way of looking at the world. I won’t go as far as to say that he is brilliant, though I clearly think he is. I’m afraid many will think that I am biased. Maybe I am. Maybe I just don’t hang out with a lot of six year-olds (which is also true).

As we were walking back from sledding last week, Peter asked me how we breathe. He asked me what would happen if we forgot to breathe. I told him that we couldn’t forget to breathe, because breathing is an involuntary action, something your brain tells your body to do without you having to think about it. I thought a moment then corrected myself. Breathing could be both voluntary and involuntary, because you can hold your breath when you go underwater.

Peter asked me how we think. I tried to explain that our brain is made up of millions of cells called neurons that send electrical impulses to one another, and that these impulses carry thoughts. He asked me how we see, and I tried to explain that there were receptors in your eyes that transformed light and images into electrical signals for our brain to read. He then told me that his eyes are the windows to his brain. Yes, Peter. Yes, they are.

This morning, Peter flipped through a book on the universe that he had checked out of the library and asked me what super-novas and quasars were. I tried to explain that after a star died and collapsed in upon itself, it exploded, going ‘super-nova’, and that quasars were clouds of stars deep in space.

“Can spaceships fly though quasars?”


“Can they fly through stars?”

Me, “No.”

So why can’t spaceships fly through quasars when they can fly through stars? Crap, I don’t know. Any answer is predicated on the assumption that one believes ships fly through space, but I believe it is better to answer theoretical questions with theoretical answers, rather than tell him there’s no such things as spaceships. I believe his questions deserve answers. Let it be someone else’s job to tell him there’s no such thing as the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, or space travel.

Pete—as you probably know by now—is our early riser. When we lived in India, he would get up at 5:00 every morning and draw Star Destroyers. The thing was: All his drawings were in perfect three-dimensional perspective. He can look at a picture in a Star Wars book, and reproduce it perfectly from memory many days or weeks later.

After we left India, Peter got into the bad habit of putting his fingers in his mouth. Come to find out, he had molars coming in, but it didn’t stop me from constantly reminding him not to put his fingers in his mouth. He replied, “My fingers are keeping my teeth company.” Which left me wondering where he comes up with this stuff.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Secret Sleep Word

What they say about kids’ resilience and ability to adapt to change is all true. By my count, Sam, Peter, and Clementine have slept in eight different beds (not counting the times one of them has ended up in our bed) since we left India in November. Now that we have moved into our house in Falls Church, we expect a measure of stability. (At least for the next year and a half…a lifetime for these kids!)

Over the weekend, I was given a rare glimpse into Clementine’s perspective of our lifestyle that caught me a little bit off guard. For the most part—for Elise and I certainly, and I believe in large measure for the boys, too—coming back to the United States equates with coming ‘home’, back to our home country, but also back to things familiar (if also, unique and strange at the same time), BBQ ribs, Starbucks, snow, among a few. But for Clementine, this is just another country. She asked me at the dining room table, “How long we be in this country?” Not the U.S., USA, or ‘Merica. “This country.” The country after India and before the next country.

Elise and I bought bunk beds for the boys, and all three of them are sharing a room adjacent to ours. Frequent are the requests from one of them for Elise and I to lay with them. These requests mostly come at bedtime. Every once in a while, they come in the middle of the night.

Clementine, particularly, has the habit of getting out of her bed at two or three in the morning and complain that, “I can’t sleeeeeeeeeeep.” I can hear her coming before the door to our room swings open. Two tiny footfalls thud on the creaky wood floors. I get up and guide her gently back to her bed. I tuck her in. She asks me to lay with her. I did…for a few nights. But I’m feeling especially decrepit these days as I nurse a neck injury sustained from shoveling snow. I just can’t fold my aging body in half and wedge myself in next to her in order to fit into her miniaturized toddler bed.

Elise reminded me the request to lay with them wasn’t about anything else but wanting some one-on-one time. I was the one making it harder on myself by falling asleep in Clementine’s bed. I’m wondering if maybe that’s how I hurt my neck in the first place after all. And now back to my original point, if after eight new beds, all they want is for me to lay with them for a few minutes—as opposed to having major behavioral issues or having been scarred for life—that seems reasonable.

All that being said, I’m trying to get break the habit of lying with Clem in the middle of the night. Three nights ago, at two in the morning, Clementine came into our room. I got up, put a palm in between her shoulder blades and gave her gentle encouragement to go back to her bed. I followed her and tucked her in, then kneeled by her side. I placed my check close to hers and whispered in her ear. I don’t know where the words came from. Call it sudden, middle-of-the-night inspiration, but I asked her, “Do you know that the secret sleep word is?”


“The Secret Sleep Word is ‘nod’.”




“What the Secret Sleep Word is?”


“The Secret Sleep Word is ‘nod’,” I whispered again. I kissed her on the cheek and slowly got up. 

She rolled over and went back to sleep.

Two nights ago, the Secret Sleep Word was ‘dusk’.

Last night, she didn’t get up. Thank goodness, because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before 8:00. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Adventures in Furniture Shopping

Random Act of Kindness

We’ve been in our new house for about two weeks now. Though our efforts to unpack and settle in were slightly derailed by the snow storm, boxes are slowly disappearing and things are starting to fall into place. We received three separate shipments over the course of a week, including a load of our stuff that had been in long term storage since we packed out of our townhouse in Florida. We hadn’t see the stuff in six years, so there were some surprises, including a new queen mattress and box spring we didn’t even know we owned and a kitchen table and chairs which we actually needed for our new house. Also, much to Elise’s joy/fright/dilemma were two boxes of my old LPs, but she kindly embraced them and put them on center stage in our new home and even bought me a cool, new record player for our tenth wedding anniversary to listen to them on.

We took a break from the unpacking to get out and about a little bit. We were still feeling the lingering effects of cabin fever, too, so on Saturday we made a chilly trip to the farmer’s market where Elise and I sampled a Turkish flatbread stuffed with spinach and cheese reminiscent of Sitti’s what we called at the time ‘veggie patties’. I wasn’t a big fan then, but these were delicious (and warm!). Point won for developing palates.

On Sunday, we drove to Eastern Market in DC. The depth of the market was a little disappointing. There were a few vendors at the flea market outside, but we didn’t see the breadth of furniture or other offerings Elise recalled being when we had visited before. The kids did spend some time ogling the pig parts at the butcher.

For the past eight years, our days have been clearly delineated into a ‘before nap’ part of the day and a ‘post nap’ part of the day. Most everyone else calls it ‘morning’ and ‘afternoon’, but to Elise and I, the all-important nap is what defined each and every day. Our entire day was planned around the kids napping. If they missed nap, or slept in the car, more likely than not, they would be complete raving lunatics by five o’clock in the afternoon. When Sam missed nap, he literally was like a patient in an insane asylum; you even had to watch what you said around him, lest you send him into a fit of rage or panic. It was like walking on egg shells. Some might have thought us a little bit obsessive about protecting the sacred nap time, but, to us, it was the sun around which all other parenting revolved. It gave us a crucial respite in busy days. Many days, we were just trying to make it to nap, doing whatever we could to wear the kids down enough so they would sleep, and we could enjoy a few precious minutes of quiet. On long morning drives, we would will the children not to fall asleep in the car, because we knew if they did, they wouldn’t take a nap when we got home, and we’d be screwed.

But, alas, Sam is eight, and our napping days may soon be a thing of the past, though Clementine still naps regularly. Heck, all three kids will if pressed hard enough. Pete has long fought naps the hardest. In India, I used to lay with him every Saturday afternoon to force him to go to sleep (most Saturday mornings, I had gone for a long run, so I needed the nap as much if not more than they did).

Though we will miss the napping days dearly, it is nice to go out for the day and not necessarily have to rush down to put a baby down for a nap. Now, we can plan activities that span across the nap, bridging and unifying the ‘before nap’ part of the day and a ‘post nap’ part of the day. Now, when planning our day, we can do it like most people…plan the entire day and not just two halves of it.

So, with this in mind, we drove from Eastern Market to the Mall. On a whim, we decided to go the National Gallery of Art to see a photography exhibit that I had been wanting to show Elise. Our kids were some of the few there. I don’t know if the appreciated all the art they saw. They were mostly well behaved, and I do know they got a kick out of all the tizus on the Greco-Roman statues.

On the walk back to the car, Elise and I were following Sam, Pete, and Clementine as they weaved and wrested their way down the Washington Mall. Another family had stopped several feet ahead of us. The mother was bending down to console her daughter in the stroller who was visibly very distraught, though it was clear the mother didn’t know why. Before either Elise or I had any idea what was happening, Sam picked up a blue plastic sand shovel at this his feet and sprinted toward the girl and her mother. He returned the shovel to the girl, and she immediately stopped crying. The mother thanked him. Sam smiled and ran back to us.

I was beyond impressed. Before I could even figure out what was going on, Sam had spotted a problem and—with cat-like reflexes—fixed it. His instinct was like steel. He was like Superman. Seriously.

We let him skip nap when we got home. 

Monday, February 1, 2016


On our tenth wedding anniversary, Elise and I took our three children, the product of said union, out to dinner at a local Indian restaurant. The restaurant, Haandi, is located in the shopping center behind our house. The date fell on the eve of ‘Showpocalypse’. The following day, forecasters were warning of a record-breaking blizzard set to blanket DC and the surrounding environs in over two feet of the white fluffy stuff. Shoppers were emptying store shelves. Elise and I shook our heads at what we perceived a greedy grab for the supplies many people though necessary to whether the storm. But the grab wasn’t about survival. It was about maintaining one’s level of comfort despite any exigent circumstance; the Kripsy Kreme display at the local Giant had been stripped bare.

Our understanding on a lot of things has been altered by our time in India, and our definition of what were deemed ‘necessary’ emergency supplies shifted similarly. My memory of eating Vienna sausages out of the can during Hurricane David also shapes my perception of what is ‘necessary’. Maybe we were just bitter. We legitimately needed milk, because we have three children that each eat two bowls of cereal every morning and not because there was an impending blizzard about to strike, and hoarders who would never otherwise buy milk had greedily bought up every carton within a 25 mile radius of our house.

Elise asked me if we weren’t freaking out enough. We didn’t buy a snow shovel when the opportunity presented itself (this was, perhaps, in retrospect, a mistake. Fortunately, we were able to borrow one from a neighbor; otherwise our car might still be under a mountain of slush and ice). Instead, we bought a sled, beer, a bottle of wine, and a bag of Tostitos. Now we were properly stocked. We could eat Cheerios for three days if we had to. We weren’t going to die. I told her we’d survive.

The Indian food was good. If not spicy enough (or at all). Expensive. It cost about twenty times as much as it would have in Chennai. The gin and tonic was a little watered down, but at least they had Kingfisher. The fact of the matter is, we’d pay thirty times what we did in Chennai for a good Indian breakfast and we have done that twice, discovering two South Indian breakfast places in Vienna since being back in DC. You can’t put a price on comfort food, and it helps keep—not only myself—but the kids, too, to stay connected to India, to something comfortable and familiar. We have beans and rice and pão de queijo and now we have dosas, too.

I went to work the following day, Friday, but was dismissed at the first sign of flakes. It would be the last time I saw my office for five days. The boys were out of school for almost an entire week. The snowfall was impressive, and as the kids squatted at the top of one of the large mounds in our yard that resulted from my back-breaking efforts at clearing the drive, watching the bulldozer come down our street, Elise looked at me and said, “They’ll probably remember this forever.”

I’d never seen that much snow in my life and I’d lived in Colorado for a couple of years. Elise didn’t think she had either, though she grew up in Eastern Oregon and Washington states. For the briefest of moments, there was the thought that we wouldn’t be able to get out of our front door.

It snowed Friday night and all day Saturday, not stopping until early in the morning Sunday. I shoveled us halfway out on Saturday as the kids played around me, and finished the job Sunday. Later that afternoon, I took Peter and Sam sledding on a steep hill near the high school. The following day, Monday, a snow day, we brought Clementine and Elise back with us. By Tuesday, cabin fever had begun to set it, and we were getting antsy and we made our first tentative foray into the outer world…we went to dinner at Chili’s.

Elise and I had tickets to the ballet and a babysitter lined up to celebrate our ten years of wedded bliss. When I picked up the tickets the Tuesday before the storm, I asked the guy at the box office if performances were ever cancelled because of weather. He told me they were very rarely and usually when the Metro closed. Well, the Metro closed preemptively all weekend, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Center was, indeed, closed, as well. The ballet was cancelled. We did get a refund, though, and have plans to go back. We’re interviewing a new babysitter this week. Our Saturday Night Date Nights were the lifeblood of our lives in India, and we are anxious to reinstate them here.

Elise’s uncle recently gave me some advice that I am taking to heart. Initially scared to death living in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the United States would crush us financially, I am learning to embrace what it means to live in the U.S. Our time here may be short, so we should make the most of it. Drink good beer and eat good food. Each of the kids gets to pick one extracurricular activity. Clementine is taking ballet. Pete’s first piano lesson is tonight, and I just signed Sam up in the city soccer league.

I may also finally be getting the hang of this technology thing. I bought a Roku. It’s not a blender, but internet TV. The device was $50 and we get a bunch of free kids shows through our Amazon Prime membership. Elise and I downloaded a season of Tiny House Hunters. Tiny houses are my current obsession as I begin to understand it is the only type of house I may ever afford to own. Evidently, the tiny house movement is catching on in the U.S. as many families decide to downsize. If it is popular, you wouldn’t know it by the sheer number of not-so-tiny houses in Northern Virginia. The only tiny house I know of is the one we’re renting. It is small, but comfortable and filled with the laughter, crying, screaming, fighting, and thundering footfalls of three high-energy children. We may only be in the States for a year and half, but it seems as good a place as any to open the next chapter and next ten years of our lives.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Falls Church Awakens

We sat down to dinner on Wednesday night, Peter's birthday, after having been in the car for two days, in our temporary corporate housing apartment, and everyone took a turn telling the family what they were most looking forward to in this new chapter of our lives. Turn the page. One chapter closes. A new one begins. Elise wisely pointed out that most families do not benefit from being able to clearly identify the end of one period in one's life and the beginning of the next. The India period ends. The Falls Church/DC period opens. 

Clementine said she was looking forward to taking ballet lessons. Sam said he was looking forward to joining a soccer team. Peter also said he was looking forward to Sam joining a soccer team (??). 

A lot has happened in the last two months that will not make its way into this journal. The last week, especially, as we travelled cross-country from Washington State to Florida, spent two days securing my mom's escape from the hospital, then spending two more days trapped in the car, driving from Florida to DC, has been challenging. To say the least. We arrived at 6:00 p.m. We'd been in the car since early morning. We drove through the driving rain, finally sticking in DC rush hour traffic. We couldn't have timed it worse if we tried. On Peter's sixth birthday.

We pulled into our temporary corporate housing apartment complex and were immediately greeted by old friends from Chennai. A few minutes later--as we unpacked the car--we were greeted at the door to our apartment by friends from Brasilia who had brought us a pot of spaghetti, groceries (including yogurt smoothies for the kids, wine, coffee filters, a zip-loc baggie full of sugar and another one with ice. Even homemade egg nog!), and chocolate cupcakes for the birthday boy. Our landing could not have been more seamless or soft. 

The one thing I do love about this apartment complex is how it is a nexus for all the lives (like ours) coming to or going from DC, either for work or training.  Like snowflakes, no two stories are the same. Everyone is coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else, like a giant airport terminal. And you meet people who have been to places you want to go, meet people going to places you have been, and see old acquaintances from the last time we were here two years ago. 

Coming back here is like going back in time. Nothing has changed, and it is as if the last two years in India could have been a vivid and wonderful dream. When we entered our temporary apartment, Elise and I were overwhelmed by a sense of relief, happy to have our own space again, regardless of how temporary it may be. "I'm unpacking," I told her. "I don't care if I have to pack up again tomorrow."

I leave in an hour to sign a lease on our new house in Falls Church, the place where we will call home for the next year and a half, the place where the next exciting chapter of our lives will unfold.