Ever since we arrived in Washington, we've been wishing and waiting for spring. It seems as though it was worth the wait.
I remember spring being my favorite season when I lived in Baltimore. The days grew longer and warmer. It was a short season, as I recall. With days long and warm enough to lie in the grass and sleep on the quad numbering only as few before the end of the school year, but still these were by the far the best days after the long, cold, bitter and unkind Baltimore winter.
But I don't recall the spring being as pretty as the spring here. Maybe there weren't as many flowers or I wasn't the type of person than that noticed.
The flowers have started to fall from the trees, and I am sure I am not the first person who has thought it looked like pink snow.
Sam, Clementine and I went for a run yesterday and met Elise and Peter at Starbucks for a post-run treat. Then, Sam, Peter and I walked home through the park.
I jumped and hung from one of the tree branches, then bellowed, "Here comes a pink snow advisory!" Then shook the branch, so the petals fell like snow and floated down into pink drifts that Pete and Sam threw into the air and at me.
We stopped and played at the playground, then finished the walk through a nearby neighborhood, marvelling at the houses. Sam learned a new word, "Gorgeous". And practiced using it, "Look at that house, Daddy. It is gorgeous!" He should be the host of his own HGTV, "Sam's Gorgeous Home".
Last night, we went out for a special Sunday dinner. Elise has trained them well, as Pete and Sam fought over which loafers to wear. Six months ago, we wouldn't have been able to put these loafers on them if you told them they were magical loafers that made you fly or walk on water. Sam insisted on wearing a tie.
Picture here ====>
He looked awesome, and I had never been more proud.
Pete is really into princesses right now. He has been playing "Princess with the Really Long Hair" for weeks with a piece of orange ribbon and/or a pink shoelace. Lost on the sofa's top or window ledge in make-believe land, I hear him whisper-yelling, "You have to save her! The pwincess with the willy willy long hair!" as he dangles a single orange grosgrain ribbon to the floor.
"Pete, you mean Rapunzel? Her name is Rapunzel."
"Mom, princess don't need names."
Apparently they just need saving, hey we all need a little saving sometimes.
When given the choice to buy a Thomas the Train Highlights magazine or a Princess magazine, princesses win every time.
When we play at the playground he clambers up the rock wall holding on at the top to a rope reminding me he is saving the princess with the really long hair.
He wants to make sure I know every time I try on a dress or put a curl in my hair that I'm a princess and that Clementine will be a princess someday, too.
He builds towers for her, pulls down branches for her and pretends to cut my "willy willy long hair" with his willy willy long fingers. He tells me he doesn't want it "windy" (curly) he wants it to be "willy long" like the Rapunzel's.
He would strike you as a child who watches too many movies, too many times, but I assure you that is not the case. He has seen Tangled once and read the book we bought a handful of times. We don't even have an abundance of princess playthings in our home, Clem is just too little and those aren't the things that draw Pete to them.
He is into something that is different than what Sam is into and it is his "cause" right now and he his quite dedicated to it.
After an awesome Saturday, Sunday was one of those days filled with several false starts that ended with all the kids blowing all their chances and being sent to bed at 7:00 with no dessert and no books.
Rather than focus on the frustrations the day brought, including an inability to replace Elise's shattered iPhone after our THIRD trip to the Apple store, I include photos from the indisputable highlight of the day: a trip on the Sunday Special:
A tiny motorized train chugs through the food court at Tyson's Corner mall.
Pulling out of the "station"!
Please keep all arms and legs (and head) in the vehicle at all times, Clem!
Best parting shot ever...Have you ever seen a happier caboose?
It is interesting to me how I am perceived by my children. I wonder if Peter will remember holding my hand and me stroking the backs of his fingers with my thumb while we read stories on the carpet in our bedroom when he is older.
Evidently, to Sam I am a cross between a cave-man and a bear. I didn't realize my son thought me so hairy!
My guess would be there will be many blogs writing something about what happened Monday as a way of understanding, processing, coping or purging what happened.
I had just walked in the door around 3:30. Peter and Clementine were still sleeping. Sam was awake, lying on his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows on our bed, watching cartoons quietly. I waved, and he waved back silently. Elise had a photo shoot and was getting ready. She asked me, "Did you hear about what happened at the Boston Marathon?"
I shook my head.
"There was a bomb."
She quickly finished getting ready and left. At that moment, we were truly two ships passing, flashing each other signals in the dark with powerful lamps mounted on our gunwales. As soon as she left, I consulted my phone for news and met grisly headlines. I texted her, "News on the marathon is gruesome. Don't read or watch."
She responded, "Too heavy. Too sickening. Too close to my heart." I hope she doesn't mind I borrow her words here.
Elise was photographing a model and a hairstyle for a friend of her's. According to her, she waited in a condominium recreation room while she waited for the hairstylist to finish her work. Unfortunately, there were three televisions on, playing and replaying the audio and video. She was trapped in the exact situation I had wanted her to avoid.
Since Elise and I have returned from Brazil, I purposely do not watch or read the news. I find it is too much. I don't need to be party to the daily snarking of partisan politics to do my job. Media is omnipresent and all pervasive. And always bad. I believe information is inherently good, and there is no such thing as being too informed, but at that same time, as with anything else, too much of a good thing is still too much, and I suffer under a constant information bombardment, the relentlessness of today's social and traditional media trying to get into my head. I can't even watch sports anymore, because there is no end to what you need to know to enjoy the game, the mountains of statistics, computer graphics, replays. Even sports have transmogrified into something sinister. Players tweet obscenities, get in fights, drive drunk, beat up their girlfriends, suffer horrendous career-ending injuries that we feel we must see, hide machine guns in their trunks. Sports should be an escape; they should provide the drama that our ordinary lives lack, but instead they are an extension of the worst parts of our ordinary lives.
As I write this, there is a TV on over my head, still....three days later...playing and replaying the audio and video clips of what happened on Monday. How does Wolf Blitzer sleep at night, spending all day talking about the same horrible things over and over again?? Doubtless, he is on heavy medication. When is enough enough? At what point do they stop showing it? Hasn't everyone seen it a hundred times by now?
Given the prevalence of media, I am convinced we can be traumatized daily if we want to be. I wouldn't be surprised if what is at the heart of our fraying human condition is nationwide post-traumatic stress disorder. Before the advent of social media and the need for a constant information flow, it was possible for terrible things to happen in the world and they not affect our daily lives. This is no longer the case. Today, we can be involved in every horrifying incident that happens to anyone anywhere on the planet. We can sit in front of our TV and computer and watch video from the war in Syria as though we were there. Even run-of-the-mill tropical storms are given names, a threatening soundtrack, a font and on-screen graphics on the Weather Channel intended to frighten viewers.
Just look at the pictures of Sam here ====>
Does it look like he worries about someone walking into his school?
Thank god, and therein lies the power of ignorance. Of protecting ourselves and our children from things we cannot control. Of the wisdom in being informed but not being consumed. Of looking for the good in the world, birds named "Cracker", for instance, and chosing to do away with the evil.
As you know from reading this journal, Elise and I always look for the good, many times consciously choosing to turn away from the bad. This time, however, it was too hard to that. As she wrote in her text, "Too close to my heart."
How many races have I run?
More than I can count, but not more than I can remember.
New York City Marathon, Escape from Alcatraz, Seattle Half-Marathon......
How many times has Elise stood at the finish line waiting for me?
We try to look for the good in the world. For our children and for ourselves. This isn't always easy to do, as this week attests. But I have to remind myself at times like these, that the people that are capable of carrying out acts like the one that happened on Monday, represent the finest filament in the vast tapestry of humanity.
Today we had a plan like we often do on the weekends. A list of things we've been wanting to do, things to see, places to explore, photos to take, exercise to get in, things we'd like to cook, naps we'd like to take, restaurants we'd like to eat at. A lot of times Paul and I email each other our lists throughout the week to compile and compare.
A family run which we coupled with a trip to the farmers market at the request of Sam for fresh homemade donuts.
A stop at Starbucks and a long leisurely walk home.
Picking dandelions and teaching the boys to blow seeds into the breeze. Talking about how the seeds float away and when they finally land another dandelion springs up.
"Mom, do people usually only plant one dandelion?"
"No. People usually don't like dandelions, they consider them weeds: things that come up in your garden that you didn't plant. They usually try to kill them with poison."
"But they are so beautiful!"
It is hard not to feel hopeful with all that is alive after our short but shocking winter here. I began to lose hope that I'd ever find a reminder of why we liked it so much here before. Then the first breath of spring hit and I realized, it wasn't that I'd lost hope, it was just that I'd forgotten what that first day of spring feels like after a long winter; like filling your lungs with fresh air after holding your breath for a really long time.
Let it be known that I'm finally wrapping my mind around and editing the home leave photos. Until I am able to expel the best of them into the www, here is one of the most precious: Clem and Granddad. This is one lucky girl, like me, she is surrounded by great men that will teach her through their love just how she deserves to be treated. Leading her back into the arms of only the best.
Like the best things always will, the greatest bits of Brazil are hanging on.
Leaving Brazil was a little like giving birth, for the days and weeks that followed it was so vivid and fresh in my mind. For a while it was all I could talk about. Then I couldn't talk about it at all. Now I find myself dipping my toes into the waters of my Instagram feed, thumbing through thousands of photos and there it is, the beauty that is left of our two years in Brazil. All the colors of all our times, good and bad blended into one awesome sunset that leaves me blurry eyed and nostalgic.
It seems that somewhere along the road I've begun to forget the less that perfect moments. The very same moments that feel hard to escape day-to-day here. Of course I didn't intentionally not photograph the bad times because it is something I want to hide, it just usually involved screaming babies, blood, homesickness, mercilessly begging for a burger from Red Robin and filling my virtual shopping cart at Nordstrom with $3,000 worth of clothes and shoes and threatening to press "confirm purchase" while Paul talked me down from my ledge. Moments, that even now don't really matter.
But like the months wash away the vivid feelings, both emotional and physical of the birth of one of your children, with a little time it all gets a bit foggy and the pain mixes with the elation, the blue sky with the orange and the red.
Then you see something that reminds you of a certain moment, a smell or a memory and suddenly it is all so fresh again.
We talk about it every day, now that is, that I've come to learn that it is good. It helps us all to cope and it helps us each of us to know that we're all thinking about it, missing it and that it is very normal. The boys ask how long we were there, when we're going back, even though they know we aren't, not just yet anyway. They are beginning to grasp time and understand the reasons and the patterns of change in our lives. They know we can go back someday and they are as excited as we are at the prospect.
Overall we are all getting excited about India. As Paul plants seeds of Tamil in our subconscious, the boys have begun to ask more questions about India. They usually cover the things that are most important to them. Today Pete asked me if when we get to India, I will be a princess. Naturally, I responded, "yes." Sam asks if there are trains there and I ask if there will be shopping.
I know it won't be easy, the beginning never is, and even some points in between, but with Brazil under our belts and in our hearts we know at least that the good will prevail. Someday the sunsets of India will be all we remember.
For now all around us are the greatest souvenirs of Brazil. A corner Brazilian market that we never noticed in our nearly nine months here in 2010, tiny quasi-Brazilian pixie haired babies, Boys that are so good and gentle with babies because that is how they were treated in their most formative years and tiny, Brazilian jelly sandals that finally fit.
Even as world travellers by trade, our gastronomic bravery still has limits.
Our new apartment sits directly behind an entire shopping center filled with Vietnamese restaurants. There have been Vietnamese restaurants sprinkled in various towns we have lived, but this is not only one entire shopping center, but, in fact, an entire corner of town filled with Vietnamese grocers, Vietnamese delis, Vietnamese restaurants and Vietnamese convenience stores.
Ever since we've moved in, I've wanted to try what I think is the staple of Vietnamese food...phở. Which I have since learned is pronounced "fe" and not "foe" as one (including myself) might think. Sometimes, when you take three children under five grocery shopping in the afternoon, then run various errands that have been piling up for weeks, though you have recently purchased groceries, you don't have the time to prepare dinner before all three of them start completely freaking out, so rather than have Clementine nipping at my heels like a starving chihuahua while Elise tried to get dinner on the table, we decided to do something we had long been wanting to do and walked to the Eden Shopping Center to try one of the Vietnamese restaurants that had been recommended to us. By the time we left, the place was completely packed with Vietnamese, which we took to be a promising sign of not only the quality of the food, but the food's authenticity. We quickly ordered cellophane noodles and grilled chicken for the kids. Elise and I ordered rice paper rolls and two bowls of pho. I ordered a Saigon, a Vietnamese beer. One prerequisite to considering any future job is whether or not they have palatable beer. Saigon passed this test. Barely. When the pho came, Elise and I regarded it skeptically. Then, she dipped a tentative chopstick into the broth and what emerged tested the limits of above-stated gastronomic courage...tripe. The rubbery lining of a cow's stomach. I should have prefaced the story by stating that Elise had had an especially traumatic morning in which, through no fault of anyone's, Clemetine took a particularly harrowing tumble. None of us, least of all Elise, had the stomach (no pun intended) for adventure. What we were probably really looking for was greasy, Americanized Chinese...chicken fried rice, lo mein, orange chicken. Something to that effect, and not the Falls Church version of an episode of Anthony Bourdain. We both readily acknowledged that we could have seen past the tripe if there was any flavor, or any good flavor, to the dish. There wasn't. The broth tasted like dirty dish water or like someone had been soaking their feet in it. We exchanged glances. We couldn't do it. We weren't going to do it. But how did we extricate ourselves from the restaurant, obviously not having touched our meals? I mean, we didn't want to offend anyone. So we not-so-cooly and not-so-calmly asked for the check. Elise tried spooning some of her cellophane noodles onto the boys' plate to at least give the appearance that she had eaten something. This is not as easy to do with chopsticks as it may sound. We quickly scooped up our children. Again, not easy to do quickly and quietly when one is buckled into a high chair, and a giant double stroller keeps wedging itself in between tables. We didn't even bother putting coats on the boys until we were outside and well out of sight of the restaurant's front window and our waiter. I think the difference between lacking gastronomic courage in the above-described situation and having gastronomic courage while travelling abroad can best be described as necessity. See, we didn't need to eat the pho for our survival. We knew, on a very conscious level, that other options existed. We could order a pizza, go to McDonald's, Chipotle, Red Robin, or Taco Bell. We had literally dozens of other options at our disposal. Sometimes, the abundance of options is part of the problem. But, I posit, that if we were in Hanoi or Hoi Chi Minh City, we would either have eaten the pho, or had enough Saigons to not only eat the pho, but also like the pho.