Friday, February 27, 2015

Mental Health Day

Before Clementine went to bed on Wednesday night, she complained that her ear hurt. She has had a cold for the past week. I feared the worst; that the cold had finally moved into her ears. I gave her some Children's Advil and hoped for the best.

A few hours later--at midnight--she woke up crying for me. Her ears hurt again, but it was too soon to give her more medicine. I tried to comfort her as best I could, but she eventually started crying and there was little I could think to do to soothe her except hold her and let her cry herself back to sleep.

Eventually, she did fall back to sleep only to wake an hour or so later, scratching. She'd been mosquito-bitten by one of the many mosquitoes that had made its way into our house. I put some hydrocortisone cream on it and, again, tried to get her back to sleep. By four in the morning, she was finally back in her bed.

She could have awoken 100% cured and I probably still would've called into work, but as it was she woke up warm, so I did, in fact, email in. Elise is still out of town, making photographic magic in Goa, so I would have to take Clementine to the doctor, something I am happy to do.

I fully expected it to take all day. But somehow, we arrived at the doctor's officer at 9:20 and left forty minutes later. It was even too early to take Clementine to Amadora for ice cream as I had promised her, so we went home, which she was also happy to do.

As we entered our neighborhood, Clementine started to cough and I thought she might throw up in the car. I asked Sundar to pull over. I pulled Clementine out of her car seat. She was hot, and sweat had drenched the back of her shirt; winter is over in Chennai, by the way.

We were close enough to walk home, so I asked Clementine if that is what she wanted to do. She said yes and we started down the street.....with Sundar following us in the car at about 2 kph. I finally turned around and waved him home. This would be only the first of many instances on that day that I felt smothered by our domestic help.

I am acutely aware that I will get no sympathy with this line of writing, and how could I possibly complain about our maid, driver and nanny being too attentive or too helpful?! Who even has a maid, driver and nanny. I never in my life imagined employing a maid, driver and nanny. But, wait. That's not all. We have a gardener, too.

When we got home, I planted Clementine in front of the TV while I ran to pick up Peter from school. Before I left, I did put her down for a nap. When Pete and I got home, he wolfed down the lunch I had packed for him earlier that morning, and we lied down in his bed for naps.

Five minutes later, Clementine woke up from her nap, crying.

I rushed into he room and scooped her up. Before I left, I told Peter I would be right back; he doesn't ever seem to nap, unless I am next to him (also napping), blocking him in.

I took her to my bed and cradled her in my arms. She started to drift off to sleep.

Then, Vasanthi came in and started cleaning the master bath. Water splashing. Scrubbing. Flushing. Then, she turned the ceiling fan on full blast to dry everything. I thought a helicopter was landing next to us. In my mind, I was chanting the same mantra, "Go away. Go away. Go away." I didn't care if the bathroom did smell like piss until Monday. All I wanted was for Clementine to go back to sleep.

She did...I slowly, carefully extricated myself from her grasp and rejoined Peter. A few minutes later, she woke up crying. I laid down next to her and we both fell asleep.

When I woke, Peter told me he slept, but I didn't believe him. The pile of books on the floor beside his bed totally gave him away. At least, he stayed in his bed for an hour and a half.

Both Clementine and I were rejuvenated upon waking. I started making beer and ice cream. But not beer ice cream. That was going to be my Facebook update, but I couldn't reveal to my peers that I was doing something other than suffering insufferably because my daughter was up all night with an earache.

This is the first job I've ever had when a mental health day every once in awhile seems to help. I can't go into all the reasons why here, but I can say with confidence that it is not because I live in India or because most of my daily interactions are with Indians. Quite the opposite, in fact. I will go as far to say that most of my work frustrations--if not all--come from the Americans I work with and not with any Indians at all.

I brewed a triple IPA and made chocolate chip cookie ice cream. I wrote a blog post. I got to spend a lot of time with my kids. I played 'the bracelet game'.

I did, "Daddy, do that thing where everything is really hard and you have to say, 'Ugh!' and 'Hmmm!'"

Though I slept well, I woke up this morning tense. I went to the kitchen sink, the first thing I do most mornings, and became incomprehensibly infuriated because the soap dispenser had more water in it than dish soap.


Okay. Breathe deep. I went to work feeling much the same.

But after I helped a Tibetan woman go see her father who had stomach cancer and was refusing chemo, I put things in perspective.

A co-worker who I had thought just had a weak stomach recently revealed that her mother often espoused mental health days. I will never question her emailing in again.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Let it Go"

The past couple of weeks have seemed incredible, insanely busy. Both Elise and I are swamped with work and with kids.

Yes, in the middle of it all, we did set aside four days to take the kids to see the Taj Mahal. Pictures to come. In my mind, if we did nothing else--saw nothing else--we were going to go see the Taj Mahal. We waited a year to do it--really, until we couldn't wait anymore--hoping that the kids (at least one or two of them) will remember it.

We set aside four days to see one thing, spacing out the travel and taking our time, the only way, truly, we were going to make it with three young kids, flying from Delhi to Chennai one day, driving from Delhi to Agra the next, driving back from Agra to Delhi the third, and finally, on the fourth day, flying back to Chennai.

I could tell you more about the trip, but a photo--especially a photo of the Taj Mahal--is worth a thousand words. Suffice it to say, it was an exciting, crazy, exhausting adventure. And I can safely say that I will remember as much Peter's breath on my hip as he drifted off to sleep at night, four of us piled into one queen bed, two distinct puffs of air, one, steadily, from each nostril, as I will the Taj Mahal. I plan to write more about the trip soon.

In the the past few weeks, we have started bidding on our next assignment after India. No hints. I don't want to jinx ourselves. Compared to our peers our bidding season is mercifully short, and after a year of speculating where we might end up, it seems a bit anti-climatic.

Elise's photos have been featured not once, but twice on Conde Nast Traveler's Instagram feed. She is in Goa this week at the Magnum Photographer's workshop.

Clementine is sick; we just got back from the doctor's office with the diagnosis of a double ear infection. I had a feeling there had to be a reason she was in my bed from midnight until 3:30 a.m. and it wasn't just because she missed her mother, though there was that, too. We all do.

And all the kids have fallen in love with the Disney movie "Frozen". Peter and Clementine are both equally drawn to princesses and act out scenes from the movie though they have 'only' scene the movie three times. The song is catchy, and there could be worse songs to have to listen to three dozen times a day!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sports Day! (Part II)

Elise took Clementine to watch Sam's Sports Day at school today. I received the following in an email from them while I was at work:

"Me: Sam's having a watermelon break

Clem(as if she hadn't seen you in a hundred years): daddy LOOOOVES watermelon.

Lol. Do you really?"

I like watermelon. I wouldn't say I LOOOOVE it. That being said, I would probably eat cantaloupe for that girl who I do LOOOOVE. And I really don't like cantaloupe. 

Sports Day!

Those shoes (and this kid) are super fast! I love his hands. Just like the Flash. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Innocence Not Yet Lost

Elise and I and the kids just got back from two nights at the beach at Fisherman’s Cove. It went by way too fast. Elise and I didn’t fully relax until it was time to pack-up and head back home. Neither of us are feeling quite ourselves, and it’s been awhile since we’ve had any down time. The longer you go without a break, the longer it takes for you to flush the BS out of your system, and it has been a long time, since August, I’d gather. That’s a lot of BS.

It takes time to think about nothing, to clear your head. You can unplug, turn the cell phone off, but the gears are still turning, still processing old information even if no new information is coming in. I felt emotionally constipated. Blocked up. As stuffed up in the brain as I was in my nasal passages.

It’s sad to say we went to a beach resort and never really relaxed, but it wasn’t a wasted trip. The kids had fun. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. It was for them, anyway. Like going to Disney World. You do it for the kids. Unless you’re one of those weird, childless couples that goes to Disney World in matching Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and ears, awkwardly waiting in line to get your picture taken with belle from “Beauty and the Beast”. (I will admit that Elise and I went to Epcot before we had kids, but as I recall, we just pretty much drank ourselves around the world).

We can talk about the kids right in front of them and they have no idea we are talking about them. That should be an indicator of how good their listening has been recently. At this age, you can still say things like, “Well, at least the kids had fun.” and it can go completely unheard.

I miss that kind of naiveté, the innocence of a child. I try to remember back to when I didn’t know about all the scary shit that went on in the world around me. My parents watched NBC Nightly News, but even then it was background noise. I think this is one of the best things about being a child, a sense of complete and total obliviousness, and I try to keep our kids as oblivious as possible which isn’t always easy.

The last time we had come to Fisherman’s Cove, they were all about the pool and the swim-up bar. They did their share of swimming, too, but the beach was a much bigger attraction than it was last time, though they never got in the water. Sadly, the beach was filthy, strewn with garbage. I swam in the ocean last time, but not this time. I wouldn’t have been able to swim five feet without being wrapped up in some piece of random plastic, fishing line, a net, or discarded sari. There was a garbage line on the beach, much like a seaweed line on the beach in Florida. Plastic wrappers and empty plastic shampoo bottles, but the kids didn’t even seem to notice.

They ran down to their favorite spot by the rocks, watching the tide go in or come out. Sam scrambled over the rocks and just sat their staring out at the sea; I wondered what was going through his mind. Clementine and I made sand castles. Peter ran in and out of the surf, skipping playfully around the garbage at his feet.

When we lived in Brazil and I would drive my family to my office, we had to stop the car at the gate of the building and turn the engine off while the guards checked under the chassis and hood for bombs. At first, I didn’t know how to explain this to Peter and Sam, so I told them that the guards were nice enough to check our engine and oil for us every time we drove to the office. They were young enough at the time that it actually worked; they believed me, and innocence was maintained.

Our neighbors here in India recently lost a child at birth. They have pictures of the baby hung in the living room and dining room of their home. Elise accepted an invitation for the kids to play with their kids and discovered the pictures. Clementine pointed at one and asked what it was. I don’t expect to hide everything in the world from them forever. To keep them unknowledgeable about death—especially in India where death is celebrated openly and mortality is, daily, right in front of your face—is especially difficult…if not impossible. We drive by the precariousness of the human condition every day on the way to work or school. But it is my job to protect my children, and I will be the one to decide when they learn about death. That is my right as a parent, and I won’t let anyone take that away from me.

I try to remember when I lost that innocence, the moment I became aware of the world around me. Wars happened when I was a kid. I read about them now. The Middle East was blowing up. People were lined up for miles waiting to fill their cars with gas in the early 80’s, but I didn’t know anything about it. Doubtlessly, stick markets crashed, rebounded, crashed again.

It may have been 9/11. I think even when I still lived in Colorado I was fairly naïve about the world, happily ensconced in my life of waiting tables and going to grad school in small, snowy hamlet at the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

My dad is a worrier. He worries constantly. He watches the Weather Channel and worries about the weather, coming freezes, the tides. He worries about too much rain and not enough rain. He watches the stock ticker spin by at the bottom of the financial report and he worries about his stocks, his savings, his retirement, his financial portfolio, his taxes. He worries about Republicans and Democrats. He believes—at times—some of what they say on Fox News, though I like to think him smarter than that. The people on Fox News may be smarter. Not smarter. They just know how to get into your psyche, to push the panic button, to make you worry. There is a whole industry, an economy that profits on worry, and they can proliferate worry and angst for their own financial gains. People can be that manipulative. Popular media is that manipulative. They can take current events and mold them and present them in such a way as to maximize worry, to promulgate angst, to sell TV ads.

I am not a worrier. Never have been. Knowing about the world does necessarily mean I worry about it. I don’t watch CNN. That helps. I love living overseas mostly for that reason. So I don’t have to be constantly inundated by bad news. Even if I don’t worry about it, it doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t seep into my brain and affect my subconscious in perfidious ways. I hate that about being back in the States, the fact that you can’t even go out for a burger and a beer without having the TV on, tuned to Breaking News.

There is always Breaking News. Even when there isn’t.

I wonder if in order for children to stay innocent there has to be a worrier, a sentinel. Was I able to not worry about presidential election results or guerillas marching through the Congo because my dad was there to worry for me. Am I failing my kids by not filling that role for them?

They will become more aware more quickly than I am ready. The fact that they already know we will not live in India forever and have already started to ask where we will go next—though it is a year away—startled me.

We try to keep them focused on the present. In the coming weeks, this will become increasingly hard as our new bid list comes out and we start lobbying for our next post. Talk of the future will be impossible to avoid, but, in this, too, it will be important to keep them in the present. Peter is already talking about kindergarten, though he has a whole semester of pre-school in front of him.

And that is all I want him to think about.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rocky Mountain High

I have to admit I have been missing Colorado tremendously lately.

After I graduated from college, I moved back to Florida. I wasn't quite sure what to do next. So, I moved back in with my parents until I could figure it out. I waited tables and also tried a turn as a youth counselor, seeing if I wanted to pursue a career making use of my higher education studies in psychology.

I quickly decided that pasth wasn't for me. What I wanted to be most in life was a writer, but my grandmother challenged me early on, asking, "What are you going to write about? You haven't done anything?"

She was right. I hadn't done anything. At least, nothing worth writing about, so I resolved to do something worth writing about.

I decided to move west.

I don't know if I did anything worth writing about, but I am glad I went, nonetheless.

Not unlike one of my inspirations at the time, Jack Kerouac, I packed up the back of my Jeep Cherokee with whatever it could hold and started driving. I had a college buddy living in Colorado, so I went there and moved into the basement of the house he was renting, sleeping on a folded up sleeping bag on the floor. I went through a couple of different restaurant jobs, until I found one of the best bosses I would ever work for in one of the best restaurants in any corner of the country.

I had been to Colorado before. My dad took us skiing a couple of times to Copper Mountain; I was drawn to the place. I wanted to go back to the mountains, the snow and the evergreens.

I lived in Colorado for four years. I still don't know why I left, but I am glad I did, because if I didn't I never would have met Elise.

Shortly after Elise and I got married, we decided our fates lied west of the Rockies. I took two trips back to Denver to find a job and move the budding family west. The only job I was offered was one working with the Forest Service in Portland, Oregon. I had interviewed for the job by phone, sitting in my hotel room in Denver surrounded by the rotting remains of a late-night Chiptole burrito wrapped and empty bottles of Fat Tire. The salary--though good--wasn't quite enough to make the move. I was flying on fumes by then, burning through my savings quickly as the commercial real estate market in Florida was detirorating quickly. I was trying to catch a falling knife.

A few months later, I would be offered my current job, shortly after our second son, my guiding light, the beacon of hope that pulled me from the doldrums I was experiencing then, was born.

And then, Sitti, yes, I would have adventures worth writing about. I am sad you did not get to hear of them or meet your granddaughter-in-law and our children. You would have loved her.

I do not think about Colorado frequently.

I am currently reading a book my mom gave me for Christmas. The Dog Stars written by Peter Heller, best known as a contributor for Outside magazine, one of my favs. It is a post-apocalyptic yarn. Upon discovering this when I first picked up the book, I almost didn't start it; I felt like the last thing I wanted to read about write now was zombies wandering the ashen plain in search of human meat for food, but I am glad I did.

So far--apart from isolated violence--the book as been replete with beautiful descriptions of the plains just east of the Colorado Foothills that I made my home for a short while.

I don't understand why all post-apocalyptic tales involve society unravelling and the survivors devolving into cannibalistic violence. Wouldn't some vestiges of morale muscle memory from modern civilization also survive? Perhaps not. Perhaps this is too idealistic...and it wouldn't make a very good story if they did.

But the book has made me miss Colorado all the same. I hope to take Elise there someday. We have been skiing, but I have yet to take her to see my Boulder and I would love to take the kids hiking there, too. I want to take Elise to Zolo for margs and guac...the best on the planet.

When I went back in 2007 and 2008, Boulder was already much changed from when I left in 2000. It was becoming more like Aspen and less like the bohemian town I remembered. Zero lot-line McMansions were popping up in town. Restaurants seemed a little more pretentious. But there, still was the crips clear mountain air, the brewpubs, the hiking trails and climbing walls. Maybe I didn't have to go back to Boulder. I have started trying to think of where the next Boulder will be and going there. Maybe it is Fort Collins. Maybe it isn't--ironically enough--in Colorado at all. Maybe it could be Bellingham.

I love living in India, but there are no wide open spaces. No microbrewed IPA or breakfast burritos dripping with spicy salsa and ranchero sauce. Few trails to run on or walls to climb. We are far from snow and crisp mountain air. Though it is a long time off, I am already looking forward to the bittersweet end to our time in India. I know it will be hard to say goodbye to our weekend ritual of going to Sangeetha for dosas and filter koppi or our regular date night to some of the best restaurants Elise and I have ever been to. But the kids need to put a good trail under their tiny feet, walking sticks in hand. Maybe feel some snow on their cheeks and foreheads, then relax in front of a mug of hot chocolate by a crackling fire.

Hannas have thin Brazilian-Indian-Floridian blood, but need the cold and mountains to truly feel alive. 

Friday, January 9, 2015



Like father, like son.

Notice the double-kick in butterfly. Like a pro.