Friday, February 17, 2017

Father and Son

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Tree Falls

Last night between 10:30 and midnight, a wall of wind rushed through the D.C. metro area. Carrying gusts of upwards of 70 mph, the wind downed power lines and uprooted trees, including one in our neighbor's backyard. The roots of the tree ran under our fence, and when the tree came down, it pulled up a five-foot section of fence with it. Now, there is a giant hole in our backyard where the roots of the tree came through the earth...and worms and bugs, too, much to the delight of the birds.

Presumably, the tree could have just as easily toppled in the opposite direction, falling in our yard. I guess I should feel lucky. I guess I should feel fortunate it didn't fall on our house. It didn't, and I know wondering what might have happened if it did is both counterproductive and a monumental waste of time. We've been doing a lot of thinking lately that isn't always productive.

But I feel now we live in a day and age where our thoughts can sometimes get away from us. Though it is more important now than ever to keep our minds focused and our resolve keen, it's not always easy, and current events seem to conspire against us to make it that much more difficult. We have good days and not so good days. There have been some of the latter recently.

Andrew Sullivan captivates this feeling well in an excerpt from his Friday article in New York magazine (in its entirety here), "One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago."

Part of why we write this blog -- as I've mentioned before -- is as a record to our children. I remember seeing a photo of me and my brothers dressed up for Halloween. Carlton was Boba Fett, dressed up in a costume that smelled like plastic and bought from K-Mart. Josh was the Headless Horseman, in a pretty ingenious costume crafted from an empty ice cream cylinder we got from the Carvel on Northlake.

Either my mom or dad cut eye holes in the cardboard container. I don't know who. This might seem like a minor detail, but it's not. My parents separated when I was young, and I don't remember a time when they lived together. I don't think about it often, but  to know who cut the eye holes out is important to me, because I have no memories of this time other than those I see in old photos. The photo was taken at our old house on Snug Harbor. Was my dad even there? Or was it my aunt and uncle? Who cut out the eye holes? Yet another reason to write this blog, maybe. So our own kids don't have to ask these questions.

Anyway, one of them cut out the eye holes, dressed Josh up and threw an over-sized jacket over the container to make it look like he had no head. I was the Lone Ranger (probably the last kid in the world who ever dressed up as the Lone Ranger). In the background of the photo -- barely discernible -- is President Jimmy Carter on TV. There was a byline running on the bottom of the screen referencing the Gulf Oil Crisis. Whenever, I think of this photo, it makes me wonder what my parents thought or felt about events going on in their lives. I can't know now what they thought about a lot of things, especially personal events. Those are hard questions to ask. Elise and I write a lot, but we don't write everything, and sometimes the most difficult moments -- possibly the ones our kids will be most curious about in the future or the ones we will most want to share with them -- won't be cataloged here.

It is a fearful time for many. Even if Elise or I aren't directly affected by the changes in our world, we have friends who are. We are empathetic people. Some might think it a weakness. We think it is, possibly, one of our greatest strengths. Elise admits that when she sees someone could be their car...sitting at Starbucks...on a pay phone...she cries, too. Dan Rather recently wrote a short piece on the fear currently gripping the nation (here). In it, he reminds us, "Those who founded our great nation were not fearful people. They literally put their lives on the line in the service of freedom. Those pioneers who forged into the frontier were not fearful people. Neither were those who fought to safeguard our liberty on foreign battlefields. Or those who marched for civil rights, facing down bigotry, dogs, and firehoses. For sure, many individuals felt personal terror – but the movements that made our country what it is today was built on improbable hope, courage that conquered fear."

In this fearful time, it is important to me that our children know what we felt, how we tried to shield them from all the craziness in the world, how we put ourselves between them and reality...put a force field up around our house...absorbed the ugliness like a sponge sopping up spilled milk, so they wouldn't worry, so they could have what we once had, a blissful ignorance punctuated by laughter and play. Because when you look at the Halloween photo, all you see are three excited kids ready to go trick-or-treating, three kids and are completely ignorant there is an oil crisis going on.

Elise and I are naturally optimistic people and believe courage is being afraid but going on anyhow. This morning on the train to work, I thought about the wisdom of taking my family to the Middle East, a place where one tweet could make it seem like Tehran all over again. Then, I ask myself what would some of my seniors, people I respect most in this profession, do. They would go on. They would do their jobs, because the American people were counting on them.

Despite the media circus and daily chaos and despite the onslaught of bad news and unbelievable headlines, I try to find reasons to be encouraged. The eternal optimist, I try to find the silver lining in even this.

In his op-ed for the New York Times, "How Republics End", Paul Krugman states boldly our democratic institutions won't save us from a demagogue. He concludes the rather sobering (and unnecessarily leftist) piece by declaring, "American democracy is very much on the edge." I disagree. Maybe Mr. Krugman couldn't see it when he wrote the piece, before the inauguration, but after the election, I told Elise the new president couldn't do everything that he said he was going to do, because that's not how our government is set up. I'm encouraged to see the system of checks and balance put into place by our Founding Fathers is -- in many ways -- working. It is not a blanket condemnation of the Executive Order. I, personally, think it's a terrible idea, but if the E.O. passes Constitutional muster with the judicial branch, while I won't be happy, I will testify our democracy is working the way it was supposed to.

Secondly, ours is a country with a deep respect for the rule of law. Part of the American Dream is the belief that equal opportunity is given to anyone, that if you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be in this country...a rocket engineer, a brain surgeon, a milkman, an Indian chief...or even President. It doesn't always work out that way, and I believe in working to create a country where opportunity truly is equal and not based on your parents' income, color of your skin, or gender. Implicit in this dream then is that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time and no one man (or woman) is above the law. Not even the President. We saw that this morning with the resignation of the National Security Advisor.

Whatever you want to say about the size of the inauguration crowd vice the size of the crowd at the women's march the following day, both crowds were (mostly) peaceful. As upset as many people were by the election, the country did not follow the path of a Banana Republic. The sitting president did not pass a law preserving his position for another term, flee to a neighboring country where he could not be unseated, and the military did not roll tanks down the National Mall. Despite the fact that 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than her opponent, the cornerstone of American democracy held fast, and the peaceful transition of power was maintained. This is something we have always taken for granted, but shouldn't. It sets us apart from many other countries in the world and allows us to disagree with one another politically, morally, and ideologically, because we know the rules of the game and we follow them. Even when we don't win.

One of the most powerful movements in the country since the inauguration is the protest movement. I have nothing to compare it to. In all my life, I have never been to a protest. I have never had a reason to protest. Honestly, I never though I would. Boy, was I wrong. Many argue protests do not work. What came of the Occupy Movement? Protests force multiplied by social media are no stronger than any other relationship on social media. They're thin, lacking depth or follow-through. The Arab Spring being a notable exception.

I think these protests are different. I'm encouraged to see so many with a sense of civic responsibility. If all protests did was bring together different types of people, different shades of people with a common goal, those who might not otherwise ever meet, then protests are a good thing. If all they were was cathartic, they are a good thing. Society needs catharsis. Now, more than ever. But these protests did make a difference. The size of the Women's March on Washington forced the administration to address it, and in doing so, exposed on Day One, the administration's seeming reliance on prevarications, exposing a legitimate danger.

As Andrew Sullivan captures above, I have gone most of my life without giving conscious thought to politics or government. There has always been this ingrained comfort that our government would keep us safe and protect us, a base comfort that no matter what happened in the world, we would be okay. I never felt threatened or endangered. Even on 9/11, I knew there were very capable, competent people in charge. I think that feeling of comfort came from a belief -- if even an unconscious one -- that there were responsible people -- or maybe even one responsible person -- looking out for us.

I don't think that anymore. But what I have learned and what I believe now is there are a lot of really good, responsible, and competent people doing their jobs. It's not one person and he may not be at the top of the pyramid, but there are women and men who show up to work everyday and keep us safe, allow us to be happy, to live and thrive. Who show up for work everyday regardless of who is president and do their jobs and do them well. And that creates a new comfort.  

Mexican Food Tasting

After Sam's Ancient Civilization food tasting, Peter did a tasting of Mexican food at his school. (Both of the boys are taking Spanish and doing well. Peter tried to speak 'Jordanish' this morning at the breakfast table. I wasn't sure if he sounded more like he was speaking Korean or Klingon. He actually sounded a little bit like Greedo from Star Wars. That being said, I'm excited for them to pick up more Arabic than the word 'tizu' (butt).)

I'm not exactly sure if this qualified as 'Mexican food' though. It looks like a cube of cheddar cheese to me!

Sam's Valentine's Day Party

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Change of Weather (Or Why Trees Creak in the Wind)

Less than 24 hours brought a complete 180 in the weather. Three days of sun and temps in the upper-60s finally gave way to the cold, dark heart of mid-February in Northern Virginia. The wind whipped the bare branches of the trees in our neighborhood. When the wind blows, and its force moves the trees, the trees do not move uniformly back. As living organisms, the trees are in a constant state of growth. The muscle fibers in their trunk and branches are all at different stages of development -- some are fully mature and dry, some are new and full of sap. As the trunk and branches move, different areas of the wood respond differently. Some move a good deal, some don't move at all. Different fibers with different tensile strengths which are in close proximity react -- or not -- to the force of the wind, rubbing against each other. The tree creaks in response. Sometimes, hauntingly.

I came home yesterday to an empty house, snow flurries outside. Elise and Clementine had gone to a play date. They would stop at Target for new leggings for Clementine. She is growing. Fast. Unlike the trees in our neighborhood, she is all new and full of sap, and now none of her socks, underwear, or leggings fit her anymore which leads to a nearly daily break-down as she attempts to get pull herself into clothes that are two sizes too small. Unsurprisingly, this is frustrating. Not understanding why something that fit perfectly well just last week, is now riding, up, bunching, or rubbing. Tears ensue. They roll down her pinkish cheeks like marbles, clear and solid-enough looking that you want to pick them right up off her cheeks to make her feel better.

She also got a new superhero doll, though she wasn't allowed to open it yet. Elise is having to take Clementine with her to her three-hour hair appointment thanks to my crappy work schedule and lack of a regular babysitter. As a reward, she got to pick out a new doll at Target. DC Comics has a new line of Barbie superheroines: Wonder Women, Supergirl, Batgirl, et al. Clementine picked out Poison Ivy. Even in DC Superheroine World, even the criminals and villianesses now do good in Superhero High. Poison Ivy is the star of the botany department. I didn't have the heart to tell her, Poison Ivy was in Batman's rogues gallery.

Elise has been busting her ass for the past three days pulling out all the stops for a huge job she had gotten from Remy Martin. After a late night Wednesday doing food styling for a cognac tasting, she was exhausted. Needless to say, no one had anytime to go shopping, much less plan a meal, and no one was in their right mind to try and cook anything. Dinner out was in the cards (pun'll see why in a minute). Pete had other ideas.

When Elise bought Clementine the Poison Ivy doll, she was thoughtful enough to buy Peter and Sam each a pack of Pokemon cards for being so good on Monday and Tuesday -- the two teacher-planning days they were home from school.

Only -- as I've written previously -- Pokemon cards are like crack for Peter.

Pete ended up having a huuuuuge meltdown, and while there was no direct or overt cause-and-effect relationship, Elise and I are pretty sure it's the fact that Sam got a rare GX card in his pack and Pete didn't that sent him spiraling down into inconsolable despair.

When we announced that we were going out to dinner (and to one of our favorite pizza places, no less, Lost Dog), Pete freaked out and started screaming that he was hungry, "NOW!" Okay, fine. We're going to get something to eat right NOW, but that wasn't good enough. I offered him a banana, pineapple, grapes. He wanted none of it. "What do you want?" I asked him.

"A jelly sandwich."

There was the two ends pieces of a loaf of wheat bread in the fridge. I turned them inside out, so the insides were showing, and smeared huckleberry jam on the end pieces. I put the two ends together, so the insides were facing out and Pete wouldn't know I had just given him the two butt ends of bread. thankfully, he didn't notice and scarfed it down. Problem solved.

Or so I thought.

He continued to scream, telling us he wanted to take a nap. Clementine is learning to sleep without a pull-up on, but she didn't make it through the night and woke me up at 2:45 after wetting the bed. We then woke up Peter and Sam changing her out of her wet pajamas. This might explain why he was so tired and cranky. But my money is on the Pokemon cards.

Pete stormed off to his room, slammed the door, and slunk into bed. I went in their to try and talk to him, to convince him that he would feel better once he got out of the house and something to eat, but he wasn't having any of it, and, frankly, I was too tired to fight him. I feel like I sleepwalk through weeks that I am on opening shift, never really sleeping. I feel like I spend most of the night staring at the alarm clock, waiting for my 4:00 a.m. wake-up call. I didn't know how tired I was until I came home from work early on Wednesday. After picking Clementine up at school, taking the bus to Einstein's for an after-school treat, and walking home, we took a nap. I slept for an hour and a half and when I woke up, I felt like a new man. I chatted with the other parents at the bus stop and struck up conversations with people on the street walking there and back. I wondered what had gotten into me. Sleep.

I came out of Pete's room, and told Elise to go without us. Take Sam and Clementine. Just bring us back something. They left. Reluctantly.

Eventually, Pete emerged from his room. I didn't want to reward him for his tantrum by giving him extra special one-on-one treatment, but part of me also thought maybe that was just what he needed. I let him watch an episode of Star Wars: Clone Wars on the iPad,while I made him buttered noodles. When he was done with dinner, we played the "blowing up ships" game, the game where you fold a piece of paper in half and each player draws an armada of spaceships on one half. You then take turns trying to blow each other's ships up by penciling circles on the paper and folding it over to see if they hit. Its kind of like a poor-man's Battleship.

It may have been just what the doctor ordered. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Indian Spring

I'm not exactly sure if there is such a thing as an 'Indian Spring', but if there is, we are defintiely experiencing it now.

We've been blessed by uncommonly warm weather for the past three days. Fortunately, the spring-like conditions have coincided with two teacher planning days at the boys' school. 

While I'm at work, Elise has reported back that everyone played outside pretty much all day.

Yesterday, she sent me the following photo, taken after they had gotten back from the library. I asked her if she had been transported to an alternate dimension!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Movie Birthday Party

Sam spent Saturday morning at the movies with friends to celebrate his classmate, Kaelynn's, birthday. It was his first really big solo outing with friends (and Kaelynn's mom).

Of course, mom and dad (and Pete and Clem) were close by. We hung out at the mall, too. I was going to take the younger kids ice skating, but the with temps in the 20s, I decided it was too cold (for me, anyway!). We followed Elise around as she did some shopping before stopping for lunch at Wasabi, a sushi restaurant where the plates of sushi come to your table via conveyor belt. It was more for the novelty. The food was okay -- not great. Pete loved the dessert that was shaped like Pikachu and tasted like a Twinkie, and sushi is Clem's favorite. When she and Elise do the weekly shopping (at Whole Foods on Mondays), Clementine always orders a cucumber-avocado roll and finishes off the WHOLE THING! It was more for the novelty.

After the movie, Sam and his friends had a special lunch at T.G.I. Friday's. I could tell it was exactly what he needed to do, because he was kinder and gentler with his younger brother and sister in the afternoon.

I'm not exactly sure what he is doing in this next picture. I think it's a dance move. He calls it "dabbing" (??).

I just wish he hadn't covered his eyes.