Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Shadowy Evolution of the Elfkin Wizard

I know we had little control over when we would have vacation, but in retrospect, perhaps the dead of winter wasn't the best time to spend a month in eastern Washington.

I guess I didn't realize how cold it would be. Or how dark. In Spokane, the sun doesn't rise until 7:20. In Seattle, not until almost 8:00 and it sets at 4:30. For children who are used to rousing between six and seven, it can feel like the land of endless darkness. I feel as though I have spent three-quarters of the time trying to keep one member of the family from waking another as someone is always sleeping, it seems.

I only took me a few weeks to have my first dream about war. I thank the incessant media barrage for that. I have had three since. I had none in Brazil. I lay awake in the dark, pushing my body closer to Elise's, reminded of the lyrics from the Death Cab for Cutie song "I Will Follow You Into the Dark": "If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied, illuminate the NO'S on their vacancy signs, If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I will follow you into the dark."

Don't get me wrong. I love winter. Now, too, do Sam and Peter. Six miles in 21 degree temperatures is exhilarating, worth writing home about. Frost formed icicles in my beard. Speaking of my beard, I made the commitment when we let Brazil to not trim it for the duration of my time off. It has not been six weeks, and I look less like Gandalf, as I was hoping, and just plain homeless. If I needed any incentive to shave upon my return to work in a few short weeks, it was growing my beard to the point where beer foam, yogurt and other food particles stick in it like I am a derelict old man.

Elise has dubbed me the elfkin wizard. When I wear a hooded sweatshirt, she swears I could pass for a Keebler elf doling out Fudge Stripes. After we returned to Spokane after spending a week in Seattle, Grandad and Pete dragged me down to the Valley to have my hair cut by a Vietnamese hairdresser named Jenni. There, I made the knee jerk decision to shave it off. It just didn't make sense to have a neat, professional cut on top devolve into a mangled, wiry briar patch on the bottom. When Elise saw me for the first time, she called me "cone face". In her defense, it had been more than a year and half since she had seen me without a beard. When Clementine saw me for the first time, she barely recognized me, pointing to my face and making tiny gasping sounds as if to ask what happened to my whiskers. I rub my face in her hair and the boys' hair. The skin is especially sensitive not having been exposed for so long, and their hair is long down, soft and sweet-smelling.

I shed twenty years when I shaved, but I suspect I will only remain clean-shaven for as long as we are in Washington, DC. I also suspect there is something about India that will make me want to have a beard again, as in channeling my inner Kamal Khan, the bearded, turbaned Indian from James Bond's Octopussy.

We have broken up our time in Washington by spending a week in Seattle. We rented a tiny, but exceedingly charming one bedroom, one bath cottage in the Greenlake neighborhood of north Seattle. It became our Seattle home, our own space amidst the moss-covered mansard roofs and rain-slickened sidewalks of Seattle in wintertime.

We kept religiously to an ambitious itinerary to make the most of our brief time in Seattle by skipping naps four days in a row. Everyone was exhausted but had full hearts and was happy. Our adventures included a trip to the Pacific Science Center to see the model train show, a trip to Pike Place market to buy a bag of steamers Uncle Dan cooked up that evening with garlic, white wine and chorizo sausage, doughnuts at both Top Pot and Mighty O (the later was only two blocks from our cottage, though fortunately for our waistlines, we did not make this discovery until our second to last day in Seattle), the Seattle Aquarium, including both a sea lion and octopus feeding, followed by a cup of clam chowder at Ivar's on the waterfront, shopping downtown, and a ride to Whidbey Island on the Mukilteo ferry, the undisputed highlight of the week. Ohh, not to mention, numerous visits to three different Barnes & Nobles.

In truth, this was a try-out for Seattle. We were putting her through the paces to get a feel for what it would be like to live in Seattle one day. If nothing else, this home leave has solidified our sense of homelessness and made more elusive defining our sense of place. Several times, Elise or I have been asked where we are from. This has become a difficult question to answer. Elise responds, "Do you have a minute?" The ski instructor yesterday on Mt. Spokane looked at us skeptically and responded, "Are you really from Brazil?" We are no longer 'from' anywhere. We are no longer from Florida, nor can we truly say we are from Brazil, Florida, or Washington, DC. Someday, our roller coaster ride will end, even if that day is twenty years from now. Before moving to Washington, DC, we had longed to head west; Elise missing the verdant and viridian rain of the PNW and I yearning for a return to the mountains of Colorado where I had spent four formative years in my mid to late-twenties. Moreover, our nomadic existence will necessitate occasional returns to the mothership. In future returns, it will be nice to have our own space at the expense of criss-crossing the lower forty-eight, as appealing as that may sounds with three children under five in tow.

As our time in Spokane draws to a close, our attention is slowly beginning to pivot back to Florida and our impending migration north to DC. Neither Elise nor I would wish this time away, but as I have written earlier, we are looking forward to setting up our new home and gaining some stability that comes with not moving to a new home every week, not the least of which is getting Clementine to sleep through the night again as she was just as we left Brazil.

But before we do, we have a few last adventures up our sleeves. I am still hoping to talk Elise into taking the belaying class at the EWU climbing wall with me and, not least of all, will be an expedition to Wolf Lodge for Moose Drools, krebble and grilled rainbow trout and steak.

Yesterday, the boys took their very first ski lesson at Mt. Spokane. Elise and I were extremely jealous, but my goal was to sow the seeds for future family ski vacations. The boys had a blast. After only a few short introductory moments at the bottom of the hill, they headed for the ski lift. I was tickled seeing them go up and come zipping back down. They loved it and I was happy to be able to give them the experience.

Eight weeks might seem like plenty of time to do everything we want to do, but when you factor in naps, baths, meals, and everything else that taking care of two toddlers and a baby entails, there really wasn't that much time left. I am glad we got to go skiing, because it was one of the things I really wanted to make sure they got to do this time around.

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