Saturday, September 24, 2016

New York New York, Part Two

I slammed the hotel room door with dramatic effect, acting angrier than I was, and I hobbled down the hall, wrestling to put my Tevas on as I made for the elevator.

I think Elise realized fairly early on in the evening -- and certainly earlier than I did -- that we weren't going anywhere because she started dropping hints that she wanted something sweet. When I lost patience with Peter and walked out, I knew all along I was just running to Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes for Elise and I. 

The streets were full of police. At least five on each corner. Large, black armored vehicles blocked off entire intersections. Intermittently throughout the day, emergency vehicles released banshee-like howls -- not sirens, per se -- but a deep-throated, guttural hiccough of impending doom. It was a combination of the UN General Assembley and the terrorist bombing in Chelsea. It seemed at the same time like both a war zone and completely normal, and the New Yorkers took it completely in stride; I wondered if anything phased them. Or me. Because, though my cell phone bleated a push alert on the night of the bombing -- two, in fact. One when the first bomb went off and a second when the second bomb was successfully dismantled -- I was otherwise mostly unmoved. This is the day and age we live in where a bomb goes off in the middle of the night and my only complaint is that it interrupted my sleep. It alarms me to wonder what it will really take to shake the American psyche. Because even mass killings in suburban shopping malls are so common now that they don't even make headlines or register in a collective consciousness. 

I weaved my way back through Rockefeller Center to Magnolia Bakery. As I was standing in the cupcake line I glanced at my phone. I'd received a text message from Elise," Return at will. Children are all asleep. I still love you."

Elise recently revealed in a post on her blog on her EHP website that she was close to walking away right before we left for India. We were in New York City, too, coincidentally at the time. I had meetings there before we boarded the plane at JFK for Chennai. You really should read it in her own words, but as we were watching the ice skaters at Bryant Park, she just walked away under the weight of it all. I knew she had left and needed space. I knew she had left but didn't realize at that time how close she was to not coming back. In my mind, I never doubted that she wouldn't come back, but in reading her account, I'm now not as sure. She went to Starbucks. I know on some level she would never walk away... Just as she knows on some level neither would I. But it was never in my character to even entertain the idea; I have no other being apart from all this. 

On my way back to the hotel from the cupcake shop I stopped for a beer. I walked into Bill's Bar and Burgers, the same place we had dinner our first night in New York. I found a spot at the bar and ordered a beer. Unbeknownst to me, as I saddled up to the bar, I had taken the barstool of an officer from the NYPD.

I immediately offered to give it back, but he insisted I stay. I drank my beer quickly, guiltily. When I asked for the check, he questioned my early departure. "I have to get back," I told him. 

It was the truth. All of it. 

Fall Soccer

Friday, September 23, 2016

New York New York

Last week, I had to attend a work conference in New York. Though I knew it would be a lot of work for Elise, I really wanted her and the kids to come. I didn't know when the kids would get a chance to come to New York City. Elise was hesitant, knowing I would have to work most or all of the time we were in the city, but once I found out, I would have Saturday morning off, I was able to convince her to come. 

We decided the take the bus up. Elise had taken the bus before and raved about it. The seats were spacious and comfortable. There was wifi and electrical outlets to power your devices, and at 4 1/2 hours, the ride went by fast. 

I booked us a bus for 1:30. I would leave work an hour early and cab over to Union Station where the Bolt Bus departed. Elise would pick up the kids from a half-day at school then race home. The kids would empty their backpacks of lunches, notebooks, and folders, then quickly fill them with their blankets, pjs, and stuffed animals. Then she would take an Uber to Union Station where we would meet. 

But when the Uber driver pulled up to our house at 12:30, he refused to drive Elise and the kids anywhere unless they were in car seats. Of course, this never crossed my mind. I don't know if I still thought maybe we were in India where three kids would pile on to the back of a scooter and zip through the city, but -- ironically enough -- right after Elise texted me to tell me that the Uber driver wouldn't take her and that she was now hurriedly marching three kids to the Metro station, I saw a commercial for Uber in the taxi with a mother and daughter climbing into the back of an Uber car. Without a car seat. 

I told Elise over text she would never make it to Union Station on time if she took the Metro. I got a quick text back saying there were no cabs at the Metro station! (Of course there weren't, but there are always cabs there!) I finally got a text as I was stuck in traffic near the Capitol saying she was in a cab and on her way, I glanced at the time on my phone: 1:10. Then, I got the text saying that Clementine had fallen in the sprint to the Metro station and skinned her knee. She was having trouble keeping up, so Elise sat her on top of her rolling suitcase and pulled her along...that is until she fell off. Of course, prepared mother of three that she is, she had a band-aid and had patched her up. 

I met Elise in front of Union Station at 1:30 exactly. The five of us ran through the station to the back where the buses pull out. Just in time to see the 1:30 bus pulling out. It was stopped at a stop sign and I even asked the bus driver of the 3:00 bus if we could still get on....he shook his head and said, "Nope." And sure enough, the bus sighed, then lurched out of the station. 

Elise and I saw missing the bus as a mixed blessing. Everyone went to the bathroom, we found a breezy spot to eat the egg salad sandwiches Elise had packed, then ran to Starbucks. 

At 2:20, we got in line to wait stand-by for the 3:00 bus. As the line of ticketed passengers grew, we started to question whether or not there would be enough room for the five of us on the next bus. We debated buying new tickets to guarantee spots on that bus, but decided to try and luck, and fortunately, we were able to get on. 

The bus was nice. However, much to our dismay, we realized that the bus wifi wasn't strong enough to watch Netflix on, and there were no movies downloaded to the iPad. I know I know....we should have packed toys, and, in Elise's defense, she did buy Sam a new Harry Potter coloring book, Clementine a new sticker book, and Peter a new sketch pad for the trip. Sam ended up reading most of the ride, and in a moment of parenting stupidity, I gave Peter my iPhone to play video games. Though it bought us an hour of two of relative solitude, it wasn't worth it when I had to take the phone away, as all three kids were thrown into conniption fits. 

The next few hours passed slowly. Clementine played with stickers before eventually falling asleep as the sun set. Peter writhed in his seat, trying to get comfortable. Sam read until his face was framed by the glow from the Kindle he was borrowing from his mother. Things picked up when we reached Newark and we drove by the airport, followed by our first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, and I think I was excited as the kids. 

Traffic wasn't too bad (we were going in the right direction...into Manhattan at 8:00 p.m. rather than away from it), until we hit the Lincoln Tunnel then joined a long queue of Greyhounds pointed toward the city. 

We got off the bus at East 33rd between 11th and 12th. Our hotel was Midtown east, and it took us awhile to find a cab as the first one we were able to flag would only accept cash. We eventually found a cab and piled in, and a few minutes later, we were at our swanky $600/night hotel (work was paying). Elise and the kids played it cool while I checked us in, then we all headed upstairs. Sam would sleep on a pallet of blankets on the floor while me, Elise, Clem, and Peter would all pile into the king size bed. I would sleep more soundly squeezed between Peter and Clem with Sam sawing logs on the carpet than I would the one night I had the whole bed to myself when I woke up with a start at 3:00 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep. The quiet was deafening and the space was crippling; no one was twitching or rubbing up against me. 

We forced the kids out to grab a bit. The air was brisk and woke them up a bit. We pulled into a burger place a block from our hotel to celebrate our first night out in the big city, but the kids grew bleary-eyed shortly after the food arrived. Both Peter and Sam were threatening to lie down on the booth benches. I couldn't carry both of them back to the hotel room, so we quickly got the check and decided to call it a night. 

The next morning, the kids (almost) slept in until 7:00, then spent some time watching cartoons. We headed out for breakfast at a deli across the street from our hotel, Isadora's, for genuine New York-style breakfast sandwiches, gooey cheese and eggs with bacon or sausage on a roll. Sam ordered the #6: eggs, sausage, and pancakes and barely left anything. 

We left Isadora's and walked, ending up at Rockefeller Center and (of course) the Lego store! We had to indulge the kids, and -- as far as Lego stores go -- it was a pretty good one with a convincing replica of the skating rink at Rockefeller Center made of legos. Elise did (very) little shopping, before I had to peel off and head back to the hotel to shower and get ready for work. 

I hugged Elise and the kids goodbye in the sun on the corner of W 53rd and 5th Ave. They would go on to the MoMa where they spent most of the afternoon coloring and doing crafts and to a playground in Central Park. We would hook back up for dinner at one of the places Elise and I ate at when we were young and in love in the city, Dos Caminos for margaritas. 

Peter was a handful the entire weekend for some reason, and was generally pretty miserable the entire time I was around him. I don't exactly know what it was. He complained that his teeth hurt, but he went to the dentist a few days ago to see how the tooth behind the baby tooth that had been knocked out in Brazil was coming in, and the dentist said it was fine. He may have just been out of sorts, too much new too soon; they had just started school, and maybe it was one change too many in too short an amount of time. He whined and complained through dinner at Dos Caminos at such a volume even margaritas couldn't drown out his misery. 

They would go to the Central Park zoo on Sunday, but when we reconvened for an early dinner, everyone was too tired, too ornery, and too unhappy to go anywhere. They wouldn't stop fighting and generally not listening to anything Elise or I would say. They were exhausted. We had pushed them hard. And Elise and I grew increasingly frustrated with them. We put Pete in the shower, hoping that would improve his mood. When it failed to do so, we pulled the plug and would make the command decision to stay in the room on our last night in the Big Apple. 

At one point, I got so fed up and frustrated, I walked out, something I had never done. 

Monday, September 12, 2016


Nanny has come to visit, and her arrival has coincided with (finally!) the coming of fall.

Weekends are always a whirlwind, but this weekend seemed a little more of a whirlwind than usual. Even though I had taken a mental health day, a the first in six months on the job. Unfortunately, I spent the day cleaning house.

The boys get out of school at a little before 4:00, but by the time they ride the bus home and we pick them up at the bus stop it is 4:30. Sam had his first soccer practice Friday afternoon at 5:00, so we had to get snacks in the other two and Sam in his shin guards and cleats and run him back to the school in time for practice. This year -- 3rd grade soccer -- he is playing 7 on 7 with goalkeepers, so it is a huge step up and one that I think he is really excited for.

Sam has always had a natural athleticism, but when I watch his at soccer practice, I can tell that he is listening to his coach (seemingly, much more than he listens to Elise or I) and that he is a smart player. He's not the fastest and he's not the first one to rush into a crowd of boys swinging at the ball, legs flailing, but he knows where he's supposed to be on the field and when he's open. I think he'll do really well in 7 x 7's, if we can keep him from wanting to be goalie.

After practice, we piled into the car and rushed to the airport to pick up Nanny. We got there just in time to sneak up on her and surprise her at the baggage claim belt.

The only thing Nanny really wanted to do on this visit -- or so she maintains -- was go to the farmers' market. Fortunately, Falls Church has one of the best farmers' markets around. If for no other reason than the fresh doughnut food truck. We dragged the kids out of the house even though the last thing they want to do on a Saturday morning after the first week of school is get ready to go anywhere. It was incredibly, horribly, dreadfully and unseasonably hot with highs forecast in the mid-90s.

We wouldn't last long. Peter spent most of the morning complaining of a stomach ache the origin of which no one of could discern. Ultimately, we figured out the first week of school had thrown off more than their daily had interrupted Pete's poop cycle so drastically, the poor kid hadn't pooped in almost a week. We let him lie in bed for awhile and watch TV, fed him fiber and filled him with water and juice, but it was only after we left the house that he finally decided he needed to put, and the trip to the bathroom in the community center was actually a welcome respite from the heat.

We headed home after not much more than an hour and with some flowers and a basket of peaches for some much needed R&R. Elise had a photo shoot in Georgetown that evening and I had volunteered to cook dinner though Elise had recently critiqued my evening meals as flavorless.

I may have written about cooking here recently. I used to love to cook. Working most of my young life in various restaurants in Florida and Colorado instilled in me a...not a love affair with cuisine, per se...but with an appreciation for good food and good beer. I used to cook for Elise when she was working full-time for an interior design firm in West Palm. But things changed when we had kids. Time was at a premium and I didn't like to rush. I started to feel like I was Iron Chef and was always making meals with three starving children begging me for food, hands outstretched in search of alms. It was no longer fun, and creativity was thrown out with the bath water for the sake of expediency. At our current rental house, we have a gas grill tied into the house's gas main and I've really enjoyed grilling, but perhaps my menus have become a little too simple.

I aimed to rectify that Saturday night. But just as Elise was about to walk out the door to go to her photo shoot, she vetoed my allowing the kids to watch TV and seemingly sinking any hopes of being able to prepare the gourmet meal I had planned in peace.

I got on the floor of their room with all the lego men and started to play. All three of them (Clementine freshly awakened from her nap) were drawn in and I had them roped into "not-so-silent", sustained play in no time. I snuck away and started on my prep. As the not-so-silent plant became less and less sustainable, I turned on some music. Clementine and Peter spent some time having a birthday tea party for Bacorn (the giant stuffed dog my dad gave the kids one Christmas) with Nanny. Sam read on the couch. Soon, Clementine would join me in the kitchen, and we would dance...father and daughter.

I cranked up the music which lead to an impromptu dance party in the living room. Dinner would be on the table soon: Baked Arctic Char with mashed sweet potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon, cilantro pesto and corn salsa. Elise seemed sufficiently pleased.

First Day of School

Sam and Peter's first day of school. 3rd and 1st respectively (Clementine offering moral support).

Clementine! I am told she wrote out her whole name when signed herself in this morning, "Clemementine".

Friday, August 26, 2016

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Home run!

Is it over yet???

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ballad of Oberon the Owl

I feel a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this morning, a little torn. The weekend is leaving me feeling split, confused, because one day was absolutely wonderful, Saturday, and one day was pretty miserable, Sunday. When I think about Saturday in isolation, I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and happy, and when I think about Sunday in isolation, I feel exhausted, disappointed, and worn-down.

I probably wouldn’t feel as bad if it was reversed, and Sunday was the wonderful day. Were that the case, I think I could conveniently forget Saturday and feel as though I had salvaged the weekend with a wonderful Sunday, but the opposite is true. I am left with the more pleasant memory the more distant. And I feel as though I pushed a perfectly wonderful weekend in front of a train, rather than pulling one back from the brink.

Our weeks have been very long, and the past few longer than most. I have been having to fill in for my boss which a week or two ago added up to over 60 hours. Blah. He was again out of town at the beginning of last week, and I covered for him, coming in at 7:30 and not leaving until after 6:00. Long days for me. Longer days for Elise at home with the kids trying to help them have a magical summer, the perfect balance of fun (read: mini-golf followed by breakfast for dinner at IHOP and root beer floats) and relaxation (entire days spent on the floor building legos), even if it killed her in the process.

With long weeks come very, very short weekends. We try to make the most of ours. And start planning as early as Monday. But you know what they say about best laid plans? And many times, by the time Saturday morning finally does roll around we often find ourselves moving slowly, just content to all be home together with no place we have to go.

This past Saturday we fought hard against the gravitational pull of the comfort of our home (though I longed for it having just finished a six mile run and thoughts already trained on an afternoon nap). We didn’t pack anything except water bottles, supremely unprepared for whatever the day might present, and drove to West Virginia. We decided to go to the historic town of Harpers Ferry, on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.

We arrived around 11:00, in the heart of the day and with the kids already hungry (are they ever not hungry?!). We parked then took the shuttle bus into town. We had fortuitously arrived during a music festival. Woodstock it wasn’t, the bluegrass singer on stage telling the crowd, “I once had an owl. His name was Oberon. We lived together in a barn for three years. But that was six years ago and I don’t know what happened to Oberon, but if he had passed, I think I might have heard.”

We had never been to Harpers Ferry and had done exactly zero research before leaving the house. Yet, somehow we found the perfect spot for lunch, Bistro 1840. Maybe it was the sign outside that advertised craft beers on draft. We dragged our wilted kids into the refreshingly cool air-conditioning and quickly ordered two IPAs and a pile of French fries and waaaay to much food. We languished over lunch, not eager to return to the heat of the day. But eventually we did.

We climbed to Jefferson Rock, so called because it was the spot Thomas Jefferson stopped when he similarly surveyed the town. The walk coincided with a (very short) segment of the Appalachian Trail, and I briefly shared with Elise and the kids my dreams of a thru-hike:

“It’s supposed to be life-altering,” I told them.

“What’s that mean?” they asked.

“It means it’s supposed to change your life forever.” Then I looked down at Clementine. “Well you’re four, so most anything might change your life forever.”

I then went on to briefly explain the trials and tribulations of being a thru-hiker. Sadly, I don’t think I sold anyone. They may have balked after sheltering in lightning storms.

After I very brief walk on the Appalachian Trail, we went down to the river. As I mentioned, we didn’t bring anything with us. No towels. No bathing suits. But the four us (Elise declined) stripped down to our underwear and waded into the cooling waters of the Shenandoah River.

Clementine was the first one in and she splashed in the ripples of a few mild rapids nearby. The boys soon followed. Lastly, I dove in in my boxers. After a quick swim, I joined Elise on the banks of the river where we watched our kids making fish traps in the mud and throwing rocks into the river and watching them splash. Occasionally a kayak or raft of river runners would float past. The warm sun eventually dried me and I started to warm again, and Elise pressed her body close to me and we took photos of one another with our phones until it became time to drive home.

We took the shuttle back to the parking lot and back to our car. On the drive home, we listened to podcats from “This American Life” on NPR. The kids, too. Stories from and about summer, just as we were writing our own.