Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kindergarten Graduation

I'm not usually a big fan of all the graduating, I mean high school, yes, university, yes, but preschool, pre-K, KG, it gets a little excessive. While I do believe in celebrating the little things in a big way, I want my kids to know it takes a lot of time and a lot of heart to earn things worth great celebrations. However this was different, Sam earned this graduation in a very big way as did a lot of his classmates. 

These kids aren't any kids. They've seen so much more than the average Kindergartener. They often already speak several languages and have already seen all sides of the world. They've said more goodbyes to friends and families and moved more times than the average adult and they are only six. I was percent behind the graduation of this class.

Sam, joined his Kindergarten class a few months late, but he dove right in. We asked him if he wanted to wait until after the Christmas break to start school and he decided to start right away, with only two days until the long break. He maintained his joyful spirit as he navigated being the "newest kid" at his first big boy school, and I mean big. There are children from preschool to grade 12 and they are from over 100 countries throughout the world. 

Sam learned to read. He was a little behind the other kids, but now reads everything. Everything. And is even reading to his little brother and sister at night.

He made a ton of friends and maybe even a darling little girlfriend who he must say "goodbye" to next week when she and her family leave to go back to the USA. I'm being gentle with his little heart, because, while I know it isn't anything serious, it is something that makes Sam giggle and Evalina is someone that made his transition here to Chennai so much smoother. 

Sam rides the bus to school each morning and takes it home most days, nearly an hour in either direction. He has friends of all ages on the bus and when the occasional parent rides the bus with them I am always sure to hear that Sam said "hello" and "goodbye" politely when often other kids don't. He pressed through the first month of school, nearly collapsing from exhaustion when he finally made it home around 4:30pm. Now he skips off the bus with a smile on his face and I wait for him to ring our doorbell 16 times to wave to his bus monitor and usher him inside to cool down, have a snack and play with Pete and Clem or watch a few cartoons.

Sam was asked to introduce his class at their graduation ceremony on Wednesday, by his teacher, along with one other child from each of the three kindergarten classes at his school. He stood proudly and spoke clearly as he welcomed the classes of KG-A,B & C to the stage and congratulated them on their graduation. I could never have done that, not even now. He must get this from his Daddy. In fact, I know he does.

They sang "First Grade Here We Come!" while pumping their tiny fists and we waited as the teachers read off a list of what each child aspired to be when they grew up. We waited and waited, wondering what Sam had chosen today: fireman, construction worker, train engineer?  Finally they read "Painter" and Sam stood up proudly holding his sign with an artist and a palette filled with little drops of color. (I might have cried there, too.)

ETA: I just actually looked at the poster up close, it's Painter, as in "House Painter," not "Artist Painter." Which, is perhaps a little more reliable, but not nearly as fabulous, in my humble and poor freelance artist opinion. Also you should know that the little girl standing up who wants to be a scientist is Sam's lady-friend, Evie. 

Paul and I were a mess. A tiny glimpse at the future of sobs and kleenex passes at his high school graduation. We celebrated with a small family party for dinner. Clem helped me make the cake, Peter set the table and I hung used car lot-like banners. We ate Greek pitas, cake and frosting from a box (Sam's favorite) and sang "Happy Graduation to Sam" a time or two and let him blow out candles and make a wish for first grade. I'm hoping it wasn't for a new girlfriend. 

Congratulations Sam!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The King of the Ocean

Yesterday, we drove an hour south of Chennai to go swimming, eat French fries  and drink watermelon juices (as well as a Kingfisher or two) poolside at Fisherman's Cove.

After spending many hours in the sun, we drive home. No one napped except Clem, so by 7:30 Sam was so exhausted he was moaning and writhing in his bed, despite his protests that he was not tired.

I crawled under the mosquito net and lay down next to him and in a low whisper told him about his upcoming trip to Ma and Grandad's house. 

When I was done we lay in silence for a few minutes before Sam asked me in a whisper, "Which is the king of the ocean? A whale or a shark?"

I was genuinely confounded. I didn't know. Eventually, I replied, "A whale. Sharks can't eat whales." I'm not sure if it was the right answer.

"Not unless they're already dead or injured."  Sam qualified.

"True," I agreed. "Or a baby."

"I think the Kraken is the king of the ocean," I added a few minutes later.

"Oh yeah!" Sam agreed, "But they don't exist for real, right?"

"Right. They're just mythical." 

A few minutes later he was asleep, satisfied. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Theosophical Society and A Palace

Saturday morning Elise had a photo shoot in one of the few large green spaces in Chennai, the Theosophical Society. Now, I'm not exactly sure what theosophy is or why it needs a society, but I am quite appreciative of their need for wide open spaces.

We put the boys' scooters in the back of the car along with the jogging stroller. The Theosophical Society is only open from 8:30 until 10:00 in the morning. They have afternoon hours, too, though I am not quite sure what they are. When we pulled up to the front gate, I had to hop out and sign in. I am not sure what the ancient theosophers are guarding, but they have impressive security for their open space, which I guess is not surprising given the paucity of it in the city.

It was easily 100 degrees out, though surprisingly bearable in the shade, and we headed down the path in search of the fabled banyan tree that was our requisite destination upon entry (the man guarding the log makes you select a destination. Never having been to the Theosophical Society before, I looked at him quizzically before he mumbled the reply, "Banyan tree."), leaving Elise behind with Sundar to wait for her client.

The first amazing thing, Sam, Pete, Clementine and I saw were these magical-looking bright red beetles marching across our path. They were as bright as fire trucks, and initially we only saw them one at a time. They walked on the path on tall, stilt-like legs and had white bulbs on the end of their antennae, like pom-poms.

We walked past cows grazing and men plouging the soil with spades. There was a coconut plantation that looked like it had come from Vietnam or a Polynesian island. We finally veered off the path and made it to the famous banyan tree. We sat down in the shade and looked up, and to our amazement noticed that the tree was full of hundreds of bats.

We were all under the impression that bats were nocturnal, but these bats defintiely were not sleeping. They chattered among themselves, wrestled and flew from branch to branch with but a few flaps of their leathery patagia. They were much larger than I think everyone expected them to me, and we sat there for nearly half an hour staring up into the tree, frozen with wonderment.

After we left the Theosophical Society, we stopped at our favorite breakfast place, Sangeetha, for dhosa, idlys, vada, chutneys, sambar, and coffee.

Saturday night is date night, and Elise and I headed to the nicest hotel in town, the Leela Palace, to have a drink at the Library Bar before stopping at a friend's party. Elise and I do not usually frequent hotel bars, but Tamil Nadu is a dry state, and the only place to go out for a drink is at an international hotel. Who knows? Maybe after we leave Chennai, we will go to hotel bars more frequently and pine for the days we would eat salted almonds and finish sentences over a manhatten or Kingfisher and a dirty martini.

The hotel is on the mouth of the Adyar River, and the river's delta--though undoubtedly polluted--looked pristine from a distance. White herons waded through the water, the sun set. Elise spotted a family making their way through the bay, pulling a fishing net behind them. We pulled ourselves from the hotel's opulence begrudingly. We should have stayed. There is no party that is as good as the one we throw for ourselves, where ever we are. Next time, we will. 

Heart Full of Rainbows

Drawing by Sam Hanna

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Five Minutes WIth Clementine

A little more from this five minutes of Clementine sitting still HERE

Sunday, May 11, 2014


It’s been a long week.

A few days ago, in an email, Elise told me she wanted to go home, but that she didn’t know where home was.

Yesterday morning, as he was drinking his juice, Pete announced, “My tummy just said, ‘Korea!’”

I don’t know how many kids are in Pete’s pre-school class, but I do know most of them are Korean. Most evenings, usually during dinner, Pete will babble incoherently as most 4 year-olds are wont to do from time to time. Elise and I will look at each other. Except for with Pete, we swear he is speaking in Korean. At this point, I don’t know if he would feel more comfortable going to Seoul, back to Brazil, to Falls Church, or staying in India. I imagine this conundrum will only grow with time. He stills call parrots ‘papagaio’ and pineapple ‘abacaxi’. If you catch Clementine at the right moment, she will head bobble at you like an Indian. Elise has caught me doing it, too. 

Elise’s email got me to thinking about where home is, too. I don’t exactly know why, but when I think of being back in the States, I think of Falls Church. I liked it there. I wasn’t so crazy about our temporary, corporate housing apartment, but there were certain things about the area that made it very comfortable. I’m not exactly sure what. Maybe it was the Lagunitas IPA, the Chipotle and Starbucks, the running trail, the comic book store, tennis lessons, the farmer’s market, the ‘Lion Man’ park, Lost Dog and Toby’s ice cream, the Nats, the seasons.

I grew up in South Florida. We did not have seasons as most people know them. There was hurricane season and that was about it. Christmas was hot and only differentiated from the rest of the year by the fact that your palm trees had Christmas lights on them. In Brazil, there was a rainy season and a dry season, and in India, there is a monsoon season, but no fall. No spring.

I think, when the time comes, I definitely want to live somewhere with seasons. Northern Virginia had seasons. That’s not to say I want to live the rest of my life in NoVa. I just would like someday to be somewhere where the winters are cold and snowy. You have to wear a muffler and shovel the drive. Somewhere where the springs are green and wet. Somewhere where the summers are hot and you grill outside. Somewhere where during the fall, the air is crisp, and the leaves fall. If there is a high school or college band practicing for Friday or Saturday football that would be an added bonus.

I don’t know where this place is. It might be Seattle or Bellingham. It’s definitely not Florida. Sorry. I find myself wondering what Madison, Wisconsin is like. What Portland, Maine is like, or for that matter, what Portland, Oregon would be like, and what Portsmouth, New Hampshire is like.

Elise got me this awesome coffee table book for my birthday of one of my favorite directors, Wes Anderson. I used to be into movies. I took several classes in college, including “Film Noir” and “Hitchcock”, and two screenwriting classes. My script made it into the semi-finals of a contest held by Universal. Things may have ended up a lot differently had I won. But, as with a lot of things, such as rock-climbing and scuba-diving, that interest kind of fell by the wayside once I had a full-time job and three kids. I’m not complaining.

Anyway, in the book, Wes Anderson provides the following awesome quote about travelling and living overseas: "...I think there's something about when you're living in places where you don't really speak the language and you don't really understand the language...That's something that isolates you. You kind of wander through. You're sort of an observer. You're at a remove. But what I like is if I walk down a street in Paris that I haven't been on before, it's an adventure. Every day that you're abroad, you're discovering something new. When that becomes routine, it's a strange and interesting way to live...I really enjoy going back to a place again and actually having some friends there now, and saying, "Should we go to that place where we went before?" That to me is sometimes more fun than the first visit to a place: getting to know a place, and getting to be known in a place. It's really quite nice to be known, to know people in a place, and to have certain restaurants where you go that are your restaurants, places where, even though you don't really speak the same language as the people there, you still have your communication with them, and you're known as this foreigner, so you're different, yet you still have a place in their orbit. There's something special about all that.”

Special, indeed. I feel at home here like I did in Brazil. I’m afraid to go back to the States. When we go back to the States, we’re not foreigners anymore. I remember the reaction Elise and I got shopping for new cellphones upon our return to Brazil and having to explain to people why we were updating two year-old phones. Living overseas is something that sets us apart, that makes us special.

More than anything, though, I am deathly afraid I would get back to the States and not be able to wait to “get back out”, that I would find life there uninteresting and dull. I haven’t lived overseas all that long, but already feel this way. It’s interesting to think of this experience from my kids’ perspective. They don’t know any other way, and I take that for granted sometimes. For instance, a few months ago we went for a family vacation to Fisherman’s Cove, a beach resort an hour south of Chennai, for the weekend. As we were packing, the kids were growing increasingly anxious, until I figured out I had to tell them that we weren’t moving again, and that we were only spending the weekend there. I take for granted when I have to tell them we are going to a new house and when we aren’t.

I have been a Dave Matthews Band fan for the past twenty years. Yesterday morning, I too the opportunity to play for Peter and Sam one of my favorite songs, “The Best of What’s Around”, because in the lyrics is some of the best advice I could give to anyone:

“Turns out not where but who you're with
That really matters
And hurts not much when you're around
And if you hold on tight
To what you think is your thing
You may find you're missing all the rest”

Either this summer or winter, November or March, another season will come: bidding season, and we will find out where we will go after we move from India. The process of finding our third assignment, I am told, is challenging and stressful. I both look forward to it and dread it. It’s exciting and terrifying to imagine where we could end up. But, regardless of where that is, I have to remind myself that as long as we are all together we could be anywhere.

Hopefully, it will have seasons, too.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Colors of the Rainbow

I am not exactly sure the reason, but right now Clementine is definitely not a Daddy’s girl.

For example, this morning as I am about to leave for work, she calls down the stairs for Elise, “Mooommmmy!”

Elise, wiping off the dining room table, “Yes, Clementine? I’m downstairs.”

“I want you.”

Elise, sarcastically: “Oh, there’s news….”

Yesterday, Elise went on a photo walk. She left before Clementine even rose. When Clementine did wake up, I went into her room and extended my arms to her and whispered, “Good morning.”

She rolled over and mumbled, “I want Mommy.”

“Mommy’s not here. She went on a photo walk.”

Disgruntled, she stood and let me lift her out of her crib. Thinking Sam was still sleeping, I sat in the recliner in the TV room and held her while she woke up. Eventually, I realized Sam wasn’t still sleeping. Rather, he was downstairs making mischief with Peter, so Clementine and I went downstairs and I started making pancakes for breakfast.

I soon realized we were out of milk, so I took some left over chocolate ice cream out of the freezer and put it in the microwave and put that in the flour and in my morning cup of coffee. I cut up a mango and played some music.

After breakfast, I read her a book, and then we all went down to the pool. Clementine and I played in the kiddie pool. She rode on my back pretending I was a train and then a bucking bronco. After an hour, she sat in my lap and ate grapes and cheese crackers while we watched the boys play for another hour. We had a good morning.

Later that night, after we watch two episodes of the Super Friends, ordered pizza, and went for a walk around the neighborhood—sort of a Sunday tradition—I did showers and Elise gave all the kids spa treatments. She put a towel on the floor and asked each of them if they wanted hard, medium or soft pressure for their massages. Pete picked hard. Sam picked soft.

One story later, it was time for bed. Elise was exhausted from the photo walk. Not only had she risen at 5:30 a.m. after having gone to bed no earlier than 11 the night before, she probably walked halfway across greater Chennai in flats and 95 degree heat.

I told Clementine good night, put her in her crib screaming. She wanted her mom.

She has a rainbow night light, and I turned that on for her, but it had no effect. I only let her scream for a minute before entering her room.

She held up her hand at me like she was giving me the Heisman. “NO!” she screamed. “I WANT MOMMY!”

“Mommy’s asleep.” I told her in a calm, but firm voice. “I will hold you, but Mommy’s asleep.”

I picked her up and sat in the rocking chair with her. She was crying.

“I’m going to put you back in your bed if you don’t stop crying,” I told her.

Amazingly, she comported herself enough to hear me offer to tell her a story. Pacifier in her mouth, she nodded her head.

“It’s a story about a little girl named Clementine,” I began in a whisper. “Clementine was a world-famous, super-smart scientist. She loved rainbows, so in her laboratory she invented a rainbow that not only had seven colors…it had seventy colors. In Clementine’s rainbow there was turquoise, silver, hot pink, burnt sienna, robin’s egg blue, chartreuse, gold, emerald, ruby, and sapphire.”

A few minutes later she was asleep in my arms. The same way she had begun the day. She didn’t get her way either time, but hopefully she will be okay with that one day.