Friday, August 30, 2013

Training Wheel and Freedom Part II

Pete didn't nap.


We've long ago concluded that Pete just needs less sleep than Sam does. Sam, at age five and a half, still consistently naps for at least an hour a day. Pete, two years his junior, fights it hard.

When I am home on the weekends, I put all three of them down for naps at the same time. An hour and a half to two hours will pass in complete and blissful silence until I hear a muffled pounding on the wall...Pete's heels kicking the wall.

The picture of Pete lying awake in bed, fighting sleep, is probably not all that unique and is reminiscent of any three year-old who doesn't want to nap. He writhes in bed, restless energy coursing through his veins, his muscles, and his bones. His body refuses to stop moving for fear it may miss something. The head of his bed and his pillow are next to the vertical blinds in the room. He quietly moves them to the side, so he can see out the window of his room out and gaze onto the parking lot below, and you can just imagine him lying there for hours, watching cars parking. He pulls all the books from the bedside table and, finally, an hour or so later, has contorted himself into a position where his heels are against the wall and he is running, quietly bumping the wall with his feet like Thumper from Disney's Bambie.

Even though Pete doesn't nap (much), he still needs sleep, and by 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening he has devolved into a raving lunatic. An early bedtime usually follows quickly. On the night Sam learned to ride his bike, both Pete and Clementine were asleep by 6:00, and Sam had gone to run an errand with his mom which, unbeknownst to me, also included clandestine plans to stop for ice cream.

Elise and Sam quietly returned home. Sam had evidence of chocolate ice cream at the corners of his mouth and on the tip of his nose like Rudolph.

Evidently, Sam had been telling Elise that he was ready to take the training wheels off his bicycle. This was news to me. Sadly, the last time I had seen Sam on his bike had been several weeks before when he was tottering back and forth on his training wheels and didn't seem at all ready to remove them.

Knowing Pete and Clem were in bed for the night, and Sam, having napped, would be up for at least another hour or two, Elise suggested, "This might be a good time for you to take Sam downstairs to ride his bike."

I was more skeptical than I let on, but agreed nonetheless. If nothing else, this would afford some good father-son QT.

I brought the wrench with me just in case.

Sam and I took his bike to the tennis court.

I held Sam up and got him going. I focussed my concentration on the handlebars, knowing that would be the best place to grab to keep him upright, while Sam focussed his concetration on staying upright through the curves. He rode a couple of times across the tennis court. Just a few feet a first, then a little further, then a little further, then within a few short minutes he was riding in circles around the tennis court. Then, a few minutes after that, after Sam had really only been riding his bike without training wheels for all of a half hour or so, he turned left and rode right out of the tennis court, around the building, and down the path.

The rest, as they say, is history.

He never looked back.

Later, he was beaming with pride. I'd rarely ever seen him so happy with himself. He was excited to show his brother his achievement, but, alas, it would have to wait until the following day.

Pete was still fast asleep, and soon Sam, still grinning from ear to ear, would falls asleep in the bed next to him.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Brasilia Rewind | An Interview

If you read this blog, you've read this all before. If you visited us, you lived it. If you visited twice, this might even bring a tear to your eye, a longing to your heart and make you salivate a bit for rodizio and caipirinhas. Head over to The New Diplomat's Wife to read my interview about our time in Brasilia in her "Notes From the Field" column and see some of my favorite photos that highlight my story.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I love Spokane.

Kindly shoot on over to my blog this afternoon and check out a little Riverfront Park sweetness from our summer visit...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tiny Babies in Tiny Houses

My sweet Clementine: She runs around with my heart, in and out of tiny garden houses, on path and through puddles. She slips, I slip. She falls, I fall. I am wrapped up in her curls and in her shadow and in her pink summer cheeks. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Day Out With Thomas (and Granddad)

When we were home, in Washington, visiting my parents last month, my dad surprised the boys, Clem and myself, with tickets to go and see Thomas the Train, their favorite, who was going to be in Snoqualmie for the weekend, A Day out with Thomas. On Friday morning we trekked over to Snoqualmie pass, about four hours from Cheney, with breaks along the way to stretch and snack. He's done this all before, you see.

After a quick lunch we climbed aboard a local school bus that would shuttle us to the Northwest Railway Museum, where Thomas was waiting. The bus ride, as you can see was right up there in the ranking with actually riding on Thomas.

There were toy trains, model trains and booths with Thomas movies and Thomas tattoos (Washington State people, we're laid back like that).

The boys met Sir Topham Hat himself(ish) while Clem hung with Granddad, safely on the sidelines. She seems to have inherited my "People-in-costumes-phobia."

We listened to music, by Washingtonian folk singers and waited for our turn to board Thomas.

This photo was just too good to leave out. I call this "Before I made you smile like you meant it."

The train took us a few miles up the road through crossings, where it was us that the cars had to stop for not us stopping for a train (which was a huge deal) and right over Snoqualmie Falls. The boys and Clem were in heaven and I happen to know one other passenger who might have enjoyed himself like a kid again, too.

Thank you Dad for such a wonderful and memorable day.

To find out when Thomas the Train will be in your area go here.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Training Wheels and Freedom

Sam told me this week he was ready to swim without his water-wings and he did. Today, he told me he was ready to ride his bike with no training wheels and tonight, on his first try, with his dad running along behind him, he did it. He's doing it right this very second.

I'll never forget the day I learned to ride my bike with my dad on B street in Blaine. I'll never forget Sam's either. A sense of freedom you never knew existed, but that you can enjoy for your entire life.

We've always trusted Sam's cautious nature and we've always let him take his time. He has always, in his own time, done great things, with great confidence that he earned honestly, over time. He teaches me great things about patience and following my own path on my own time, which does not come as naturally to me at 34 as it does to my sweet boy at 5 and a half.

Ride on little boy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

B & O Railroad Museum, Baltimore MD

We're really into trains around here. Really. When the boys bump into each other they shout, "Stop shunting me!" When we cross streets the only way I can get them to hold hands is to tell them to "Couple up!" We pretty much eat, drink and sleep trains around here. They come by it rightly, though my dad is a bit of a train buff himself, having written his Phd thesis on trains. When we visit them in Cheney we go "Trains spotting" and everyday they ask if we can go see trains.  Sam is pretty sure that if he isn't a construction worker when he grows up, he'll be a train engineer. 

Our train research here in Northern Virginia led us to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore. So we spent a day (seriously you could spend the whole day) seeing everything trains. From real trains to toy trains, to model trains and everything in-between. We finished off the day at the Baltimore waterfront eating crab-cake sandwiches outside at Phillips before our short drive home. 

To view the whole gallery of images from our visit please visit my photography blog here.

Oh come on and a cameo, by yours truly, by mine truly. He's catching on to this film thing but the manual focus on the Contax has quite a learning curve.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

He swims!

We've had a few swim lessons here and there, literally, here in DC, when Sam was two and in Brazil, but nothing drug us as close to good old swimming as time and patience themselves.

Congratulations Sam!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

24 Weeks and Counting...and Counting...and Counting...

Before I begin, I would just like to say I am NOT complaining.

As far as gigs go language training isn't a bad one. The hours are good. No, correction. The hours are great. Most days I am home by 2:30. I don't know if I should be advertising this fact in a public forum, but spending six hours a day learning a new language is about as much as anyone can take. Your brain can only absorb so much new information at once.

That being said a thirty week language course is lllloooooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnggggg. At this point...24 my Portuguese class, I was reasonably fluent and was finishing the class and taking my final test. At the same point in Tamil, 24 weeks, we watch a newsreel from Tamil Nadu state and the instructor doesn't ask us what the news clip was about or what the newscaster said, she asks us what words we understand. I've been in Tamil class for 4 months and I only pick out a handful of words. *sigh*

This is my second time learning a new language for my job. This experience has been much more difficult and much more frustrating for a variety of reasons than learning Portuguese was. Learning Portuguese was vitally important for me to be successful in my position in Brasilia. Every meeting I attended over my two years there was conducted in Portuguese. Furthermore, knowing Portuguese is crucial to daily life. Though I could expound fluently on nuclear non-proliferation in Portuguese, knowing how to order coffee, get our internet hooked up, and buy a car in Portuguese were skills I had to learn in Brazil. Conversely, in my opinion, knowing Tamil is of dubious utility both to my future position in Chennai and to navigating daily life.

Chennai Tamil, or colloquial Tamil, is sprinkled with English. And one can easily get by knowing only English. Sure, knowing Tamil pleasantries helps indoctrinate yourself to the local population, but this knowledge comes at a high price. Do I really need to know how to describe Obamacare in Tamil?

Each week, we are given a new topic to learn. Last week it was terrorism. This week, it is health. During the week on natural disasters and accidents, we were shown video of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which devastated huge swathes of the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. There are only so many times you can watch people, buses, and train cars being swept out to sea before it starts to adversely affect your psyche. Last week, terrorism week, we were shown a video of the Twin Towers collapsing.

There was no Tamil in the video.

I asked my instructor why we were watching the video, how watching the video enhanced our comprehension of the Tamil language. She turned the video off.

These are but two examples. The week on crime brought equally horrifying imagery and stories. I have since concluded that Tamilians specifically, and perhaps Indians in general, have a unique relationship with death. It is very different from most Americans' relationship with mortality. I believe given how far our country has advanced in areas of safety and health, most Americans feel well nigh invincible. I don't know a lot about Hindu beliefs, but don't doubt they play a huge part in Indians' acceptance of death has an intrinsic part of the circle of life. Furthermore, death just seems much more prevalent and familiar in India. Maybe just the simple fact that having a population of 1.2 billion people means you will experience 1.2 billion deaths makes one less adverse to facing death. I respect how the few Indians I know can see death and remain unfazed, and perhaps, a belief in reincarnation demystifies death enough so to glimpse the Grim Reaper becomes as comfortable and familiar as afternoon tea.

For some reason, many Tamil words just won't stay in my brain. And there is no rhyme or reason to the ones that do. I remember the word for "renewable energy" but forget the word for "door".

I think part of the problem is that there are no cognates, words that sound similar to the same word in English. Fortunately, in Portuguese there were many cognates, especially as the vocabulary become more technical. Tamil words are just random syllables lumped together. I know of only a few cognates and they are actually, interestingly enough, Portuguese cognates, carry-overs from Portuguese colonial trade, especially around Goa, on India's east coast. Tamil and Portuguese share the word for "window" and a few others.

Daily the following scenario will play out: Our instructor asks, "'Responsibility' is?"

I reply, "Peru-mai?"

"No, that's 'pride'."


"No, that's 'patience'."



Or, She will ask, "'Oo-weir? What does 'oo-weir' mean?"


"No, that's 'Ooo-weir'. I said, ''Oo-weir'."


"'Oo-weir is 'life.'"

Got it. But not really. Argh! Only six more weeks.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Beauty and Chaos

Last night, after Elise had returned from her photo shoot, she asked me how everyone was. I responded, "It was equal parts beautiful and chaotic."

First of all, let me start by apologizing in advance if I unintentionally invert the normal placement of words in a sentence. I am two-thirds of the way through an intense thirty-week Tamil class. In Tamil, though every sentence begins with a subject, it ends with a verb. The English sentence, "After class, I went to the store." Would be, "Class after, I store to went." in Tamil. I only make this important distinction, because I almost started this blog by writing, "Yesterday at night, Elise's photo shoot after, she to me everyone how asked."

Elise's working hours generally fall outside of the normal Monday through Friday nine to five as immortalized by Dolly Parton in the song and movie of the same name. She works when her clients don't, which means most of her shoots are on the weekends.

This works well, and I secretly enjoy the role reversal and the challenge of feeding three children, getting them into and out of baths and into bed solo. Generally, dinner is not on the table when she returns home, steam curlycueing from the plate. And last night was, unfortunately, no exception, though I was able to throw together a salad hearty enough to serve as a meal. Add a bottle of Franciscan merlot and a loaf of kalamata olive bread from the bakery, and dinner was salvaged. The question as to everyone's status came after the first crucial, revitalizing sips of red wine and before we settled in to watch the finale of "The Next Food Network Star".

The few evenings I spend solo parenting often oscillate between moments of pure, unadulterated joy and complete and utter chaos.

For example, as I am cleaning the kitchen of dinner preparations and bowls and spoons covered with brownie batter, I glance up to see all three kids reading to each other on the couch.

This idyllic scene was preceded only moments before by the two boys trying to pee on each other in the bath tub. 

You get the picture. 

I sat with the kids as they ate their dinner. We said blessing, and I asked them what their favorite parts of the weekend were. Sam and Pete invariable answered the movie "Planes" that we had seen that morning. Then, everyone started rattling off their favorite quotes from the movie. Clem and I cheered sippy cups. That is to say, she cheered my beer bottle with her sippy cup. 

After a few minutes, I walked into the kitchen to get more noodles for Sam. When I glanced over at Clementine she looked back at me, and for the briefest instant I could see the beautiful girl she was going to grow up to be. The sun was casting long, almost fall-like afternoon shadows through the vertical blinds. She smiled and a lump came to my throat. 

A few minutes later, Peter dropped his entire plate of green peas and chicken on the floor (chaos) as he was clearing his plate (beauty). Though everyone immediately stooped to help clean up the mess (beauty) (well, everyone, that is, except Peter, the main perpetrator), their efforts did more to spread what then seemed like a quantity of peas numbering in the tens of thousands (chaos). 

The moment each of our three kids were born was filled with equal parts beauty and chaos, and every day since had achieved an equal balance. I don't foresee that magical formula changing as we move into the future, though undoubtedly some days will be filled with more chaos than beauty and vice versa, but also undoubtedly, no day will be all chaos or all beauty. What makes each morning interesting is not knowing what mixture each day will bring. 

Monday, August 5, 2013


It been a little quiet around here, and I don’t, at all mean in our house.   

Things were coming to a crescendo before we left for summer vacation in Spokane, as they always do at the mid-point of one’s stay anywhere. For most people, in my sometimes-jealous State Department haze, “halfway” isn’t a milepost they pass knowingly, just a subtle chalky mark on the sidewalk of their days.  They may not even notice halfway, they just cruise right on through it. Nothing really changes, you’re just “halfway done,” with another similar half to finish: running races, apartment leases, semesters and sandwiches.

That is naive of me, of course, people’s lives change similarly to ours, but I’d argue, not with such calculated and graph-able midpoints. Maybe it’s even, that we are made to become joyfully and all at once brutally aware of our “halfway point."

Our halfway is often the peak of a difficult period of acclimating or re-acclimating to a point of de-acclimating, turning from what should be a comfortable and now familiar slide, into a slide on a very humid day: Bare legs gripping to the slide awkwardly when all gravity wants is to pull you down.

June just happened to be our halfway up. The halfway point to our stay here in Oakwood, our repatriation, our time with our families and our friends and those that fall into a category somewhere in the middle.  It was the halfway of Paul’s time in language, my time to shop for five people, to restock wardrobes from two years out of the country for two years out of the country, to work with freedoms and confidence that often don’t come easily in other countries. Our time to play on beautiful playgrounds, with beautiful grass, in beautiful weather, to drive our minivan (which we love to hate) to eat things we’ve missed and to eat things we think we might miss. To complete goals that these heavy deadlines always impose.

It’s a lot and it certainly feels that way right now.

I heard it said somewhere that the most difficult period of time in the lives of State-Department children are the times they return to the US for just one year. I will say confidently, from my own experience, that it isn’t just for the children that this particular length of time is hard.

I’ve moved both consciously and subconsciously from a mental and physical state of settling our family, to unsettling our family, myself and our physical belongings.

It catches me off guard and makes me feel off, sometimes even dizzy, but it is the pull internally and mentally that must be done to make one ready to say goodbye again when the time comes.

We’ve started talking more about India. I think. I actually don’t recall speaking about it more, but the kids have begun to talk more about it, so I figure they get it from us.

All of the “air flights” of the Lego 747, that used to go to “Brasilia East-West International Airport,” “Washington DC East-West International airport,” and “Cheney International Airport” (Which, for your information, does not and likely will not ever exist) to “The long-long flight to India International East-West Airport.”

Sam has begun to draw pictures of “Indian Princesses” who decorate the walls of their waterfall-encased castles, with framed portraits of “Indian Princes.” They wear red dots and jewels on their heads, none of which I recall them seeing or knowing anything about.  He claims he never knew yoga came from India, but that that notion is “very interesting.” He wants to do more yoga. 

Pete needs to know whether our flight will be a "long-long flight" or just a "long flight." Will it be on a 
"long-long flight plane" or just a "long flight plane?"

Clem just says "no" a lot, but it is her favorite word, so we aren't really worried.

Just like always, they ask “How long until we leave for India?” and until just the other night we’ve responded “Not for a long-long time.” Until I started to tell them, “It’s getting close” which ended up being a huge mistake, because kid time does not equal real time. 100 days is tomorrow. So Paul and I found ourselves making a pact at dinner the other night that we continue to tell them that we don’t leave for a long time and when we get about 30 days out, we’ll make a countdown that will be more tangible. That sounds like a good idea, for now.

It isn’t that we are trying to keep anything from the kids, their feelings and preparedness, is always the largest parts of our hearts, but we’re making this up as we go, just like parents always do. We’re making rules and breaking them to make new ones that work better and all in the midst of our own uncertainty. Not everything we do will be right, but it will be done with the kids in the very forefront of our decisions. 

When I begin to get overwhelmed at the amount I have to do in preparation for our departure in November, I try to turn myself into one of the kids; I throw “To Do” lists in the trash and we go to the zoo, because tomorrow is hundred days away and it will certainly be a better day to worry about India.