Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving Thanks and an Affirmation

I had taken the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, off so that we could have a long, four-day weekend. This was supposed to be the weekend we finally went to see the Taj Mahal, but as our townhouse in Florida still has not sold and money is tight, we planned a less ambitious--but no less adventurous--trip.

We were going to drive six hours south to the town of Tranquebar, the site of an old Dutch fort beside the sea. After spending a day there, we were going to drive another two hours to Thanjevur to see an ancient temple.

Last Sunday night, Elise and I went to a couple's cooking class for a friend's birthday. We made chicken tikka and butter chicken, and it was actually really, really fun, but that morning I had gotten up at 4:30 to go for an eight mile run. When I got home, Elise left at 6:00 for a photo walk through the Koyambedu flower market. I napped. Elise didn't. The date event didn't start until 7:00. After three hours of cooking we still hadn't eaten, and both Elise and I were cross-eyes with exhaustion, hunger, and about to pass out from the cooking fumes.

We made it through the night, but I would have my second of what would be three upset stomachs in two weeks. And we started what was--thankfully--a short week sick, exhausted, irritated, frustrated, short with the kids and, frankly, needing a break from Indian food.

The last thing either of us felt like doing Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, was to get up early and pack everyone up for a four-day road trip while they ran around us, screaming, crying and fighting.

We scrapped the six hour drive, and decided just to go to the beach for one night, but by then, all the hotels were booked.

So, we ended up staying home.

It was exactly what the doctor ordered. We've been staying home a lot lately. After a chaotic week of work and school, no one really wants to leave the oasis that is the compound on which we live, pool, tennis court, playground. We have everything we really need right here, and for that we are extremely grateful.

I made waffles. Clementine and I went for a "turkey trot". We swam and napped.

We don't really have a Thanksgiving tradition. Yet. Last year, we had just arrived in India. We had only been here one week before Thanksgiving, and the head of my office was kind enough to host several families for a Thanksgiving dinner. The year before that, in Brasilia, we went out to Porcao for churrasco.

This year, Elise prepared a simple, but stupendous Thanksgiving spread. The turkey had a hint of Indian spices thanks to Rita, and Elise cooked it perfectly without the help of our meat thermometer which I melted brewing beer. Cranberry sauce, stuffing, green beans, mashed white sweet potatos (boniato), and biscuits rounded out the feast. The kids were impressed. Sam could not stop raving about the spread.

Everyone was forced to say what they were thankful for. Sam--family. Peter--food. Me--you (looking at Elise). Elise--family. Clementine refused to participate, so we urged her to just say something, anything. All she wanted to do was eat, so she pointed to her mouth, which was good enough for us.

Earlier in the day, the kids and I were going to run to the gourmet market for ice cream to go with the pie. We decided not to go. Clementine went into hysterics. She misunderstood and thought we were going out for ice cream cones. We did get into the car and run to the corner store in search of ice cream and a new meat thermometer to no avail. It was rush hour, and I wasn't about to attempt the across town trek to Amadora, the best ice cream store in town. So, we decided to have it delivered.

An hour and a half later the delivery guy finally called. Right as we were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. He didn't speak English, so I ran out to the road to get one of the security guards to talk to him and give him directions. My Tamil's not that good.

He called four more times before finally showing up. I was certain the ice cream would be melted, but--surprisingly--it wasn't. I wouldn't try this in June, however.

With Thanksgiving behind us, the kids thoughts immediately turn to Christmas and the boys' birthdays. Honestly, there thoughts had been on Christmas and their birthdays before Thanksgiving.

I've been giving the kids a crash course in super-heroes. I started them on late '70s/early '80s Super Friends cartoons from my youth. When we go out to breakfast, I tell them origin stories to keep them entertained until the food comes. "How did Barry Allen become Flash?" "How did Hal Jordan become Green Lantern?" Who knew this seemingly useless information would come in so handy? Peter especially is getting good at the game where I say the civilian alter ego and he names the super-hero. "Bruce Wayne." "Batman!" "Dr. Bruce Banner." "Hulk!" So, now I am filling my own kids' heads with the same useless information.

Peter has taken a keen interest in Green Arrow and races around the house with an imaginary quiver and bow flinging arrows at everyone and everything he sees. I had an epiphany that the perfect Christmas present would be a Nerf bow and arrow set, but I was afraid Elise would kill me. She is feeling a little shell-shocked from all the imaginary phasers, photon torpedoes, and ion cannons going off around her. She swears she is going to have PTSD by the times these kids grow up with all the shooting noises and imaginary spaceships going to warp in the house.

But the other day when I came home from work, she asked me if I had looked in the Amazon cart. I said, "No. Why?" I went on my computer and opened it up. She had put the same Nerf bow and arrow set that I was looking at in the cart to buy for Christmas. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Weekend In Photos

This first photo might seem a bit strange, but this guy has been sleeping with us. Ew, you guys. He has been sleeping in our windowsill, but not really sleeping per se, screeching. All. Night. So I am leading with this picture to warn you that if we look tired, this is the reason. 

Let's just call him "Jerk"
Snuggling by the pool
Snack time in Big Brother's cafeteria is big time.
Top knot Tuesday
Bags of temple flowers with my girl. The sweet old Tamil ladies love Clem we always leave with WAY more flowers than necessary. 
Bed full of babies.
Sunday cinnamon roll picnic in the kitchen.
Sweetest boy ever playing chess with his little brother.
My Sunday morning photo walk was at the local fruit and flower market. Always amazing and fragrant. These are curry leaves at my feet. The most discerning smell of South India. 
"Look Mommy, I'm just like you now!" *I do not go out like this. See below.
Date night cooking class: Butter Chicken.
Oh ya, the tired picture. I'd been up since, well I never went to bed, because of "Jerk" (see above), Paul ran 8 at 4:30, then I got up to go out shooting at 6am, then parenting, then a cooking class that didn't start until 7:30 and we didn't eat until 10. Forgive us our dark circles. 
Kitchen Stadium Hanna: Still smiling. "When can we eat?"
Little girl at big brother's school.
Little girl, big bed.

and "Eleventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen."

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I know, I know I'm late. I have a million irons in the fire and some of them are hot hot hot. Most of them are little and feisty and shown below, but other ones are smoldering in really cool places more on that soon. The kids dressed up as The Super Friends for Halloween. That is a lie, they dress up as The Super Friends every day, but today they got to eat a lot of candy and show their alter-egos off. Sam wore his costume in the costume parade at school and Peter wore his costume to his local pre-school who honors the holiday because of, well TV commercials that advertise for Halloween. The rest of India was like "why the heck are these crazy Americans dressed up today?" I even joined the insanity this year for the first time in a decade and slapped together a goofy "Strawberry Shortcake goes to jail" type of ensemble. The kids weren't embarrassed just yet, but I'm only warming up.

Justice League of India

Wonder woman captures Green lantern with her magic lasso. 

Cheese. Obv.

Daddy's little Wonder Woman.
Told ya. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Trials and Tribulations of Single-Parenting

I would be a terrible single-parent.

As you may have realized from the photos in the sidebar, Elise is not in Chennai, because we don't have many camels in the south of India. She is in fact in Rajasthan attending the Pushkar Camel Fair, while I am home with Sam, Peter, and Clementine.

It is not that I am not a good father. It's just that I am not a very good mother. As a father, I am good at the routine tasks of childcare. I get up at five and make coffee, wash the left-over dishes from the night before, make school lunches, and make breakfast for the kids. Sometimes, it is just cereal. Most mornings it is bacon and eggs, French toast or pancakes. I change diapers, get everyone dressed, and brush teeth. Socks on. Shoes, too. Ready for the bus.

In the evening, it is dinner, baths, comb hair, brush teeth, read book, bed. Bam bam bam. No messing around. Soldiery in efficiency.

At this...making sure everyone is fed, clean and well-rested, I am very, very good. What I don't do as well is nurture, worry and snuggle.

When we lived in Brazil, Elise had subscribed to this service that sent you a box of clothes every month for your kids. All you had to do was tell them what size or how old your child was and feed them your child's "style profile" (still not exactly sure what that means), and every month the company would send you a box of new clothes for your kid. No more dragging recalcitrant kids through the aisles of Target. I thought this would be perfect for the single dads in the world.

With Elise out of town, I didn't have to buy clothes, but I did have to do things that fell outside of what I am accustomed to do as a father. Last night, Sam asked me to lie with him while he fell asleep. I was tired and hadn't eaten dinner yet. I told him, "No, I am not going to lay with you." But as soon as I said it I regretted it. I told myself if he asked again tomorrow night, I would do it. Sure enough, he asked again, and so did Peter and Clementine, so I laid down with all of them, asking them what the best part of their day was.

This morning, as I was lifting her from her crib, Clementine told me her stomach hurt. I hate to admit it, but typically, I wouldn't think anything of it. But all at once I realized that Elise wasn't there, and if I didn't worry about it, there was no one else that was going to worry about it either.

Later, Sam would give me a stink about going to school. He didn't want to go, he would tell me. In this, he was quite firm. But I forced myself to stop going about my daily routine and picked him up, not much unlike I used to do when he was Clementine's age a short five years ago. I sat down with him on the couch and held him close to my chest for about ten minutes, his wild mane tickling my nose. This was, evidently, all he needed. Fortunately, I recognized that before it was too late, and got him out the door on time.

Sometimes, I get up early on Saturday mornings and go for a "long" (8 - 9 miles) run to Elliot's Beach and back. I am usually home by six, but my boys get up at an ungodly early hour. In order to keep them from waking Elise, I started to tell Sam and Pete that they could play a Lego Chima video game on my iPhone until I got home.

I have Elise's old iPhone which can't carry a battery charge so there was no risk they would play all morning. The battery usually dies shortly after I get home from my run, a perfect coincidence. This weekend, I told Sam I may get up early and run on the treadmill. I didn't run, but they got the iPhone anyway. I didn't fight him on it. The battery would die soon anyway.

But before the battery died, he asked me if he could download a different Lego Chima video game. Of course, my initial thought was how much does it cost. It was free! For some reason I have trouble articulating now, I didn't say no. I guess I tried putting myself in his shoes. When I looked into his eyes, I saw curiosity or a thirst for the next cool thing. I could see myself, wanting the next comic, the next movie, the next TV show, the next video game.

So we downloaded it. He hardly ever plays on my iPhone and it wasn't like I was buying the kid a new Xbox.

This morning when Sam said he didn't want to go to school because he was so tired I may have bribed him by saying if he went to school he could play on the iPhone when he got home. Not my finest parenting moment. I guess I was imagining this alternative universe where at the end of the day every one had a little quiet downtime to engage in their own self-actualizing activities instead of the normal, happy chaos that ensues every evening starting around 5:00.

I told our nanny, Rita, that I was okay if the kids watched TV when Sam came home from school. They haven't been watching TV during the day, so I think both Elise and I agree that after a long day, it's okay to zone out in front of the TV for a few minutes. Why else would HGTV be so popular?

When I came home this evening, everyone was bouncing on the trampoline next door at the neighbor's house. When I saw how flush and sweaty Sam was, I recalled how exhausted he said he was this morning and had the fleeting thought that this wasn't going to end well.

Packages had come today, and when we came home, I showed them the the two new Super-Friends comics I had ordered on Amazon for them. See, I had ordered three. I mean, I do have three kids. But only two of them came. Presumably, the other will come in next week's package shipment. Another one of the realities of living overseas. So, I could hold the two I had until all three arrived, or I could give them two now in hopes that they would share.

There was some initial crying, but it wasn't as bad as I feared, partially off-set by the three notepads and three ballpoint pens I hijacked from my lunch meeting at the Hyatt.

As they flipped through the comics, I re-heated the dinner Rita had made for them, and we ate. After dinner, they each picked one (or two...another parenting fail!) candy from their Halloween buckets. Then, Sam--finally--asked me if he could play games on my iPhone.

It was already 6:30. He could barely see straight. The best--and, frankly, only--course of action at this point was baths, book, and bed.

"Not tonight," I told him calmly.

He went berserk, "You ALWAYS say no when it come to electronics!!" Then stormed out of the kitchen.

I did break my promise. Guilty. But the more I tried to explain why, the more irate he became. Until I heard Elise in my ear whisper, "Stop talking. You talk too much."

Somehow, I got him in the shower. He balled the entire time. I carried him, swathed in a towel, like a baby to the couch and put his pajamas on.

He was still crying. He told me, "It's like you are the king and I am the guard. You're always telling me what to do."

"I am not the king. I am your father. And I only tell you what to do because I love you."

Sam, "Your always telling me what to do!"

"At my job, someone is always telling me what to do. Someone is going to tell you what to do your whole life, and the sooner you get used to that fact, the more successful your are going to be."

(Not sure where I was going with that one, but both Peter and Clementine were both running around naked in the background and the shower was running and maybe even starting to flood the bathroom.)

Eventually, everyone calmed down. I laid with Sam while Peter and Clementine took their showers. Only God knows if they used soap. Clementine's hair was wet so that was progress. We did read one a story from one of our new comics. Sam asked me if Green Lantern's battery recharges his ring faster than the iPhone's battery or about the same, and we learned the words "relinquish" and "successor".

Only two more days to go, and I am still awaiting confirmation that she has actually ridden a camel. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Diwali to Detlef Schrempf

Diwali or Divali also known as Deepavali and the "festival of lights", is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

Detlef Schrempf (born January 21, 1963) is a German-American retired professional basketball player. He played college basketball for the University of Washington Huskies from 1981–1985, and was drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA) by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1985 NBA draft, with the eighth overall pick (both entries courtesy of Wikipedia).

This year, we celebrated our first Diwali. I don't know anything about the holiday except what I just copied and pasted from Wikipedia above and that the holiday is celebrated with fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks. 

Diwali fell on a Wednesday this year, and the fireworks started the Saturday before, exploding over our house in monstrous globes of blue, green and red light. I had heard Diwali called the "festival of light", and this was affirmed by the fireworks and firecrackers that basically boomed and sparked non-stop for 24 hours, starting the night before. 

We had the day off from work and school, so we went to the pool and swam with the sounds of firecrackers going off all around us, carrying over the river. 

Somehow, we took naps though the sonorous crackling and after naps, decided to go out to a nice dinner at one of our favorite spots, Chop Chuey. Located in the basement of the Raintree on St. Mary's, a five-star hotel near our home, Chop Chuey is the kind of restaurant where you make your own noodle bowl then give it to the wok chef to cook up. He greases up a giant wok and places it over a burner that is like the mouth of a volcano and spews fire like the engine of an F-14. The kids love it and eat for free.

On the drive there, we had to navigate the crowds of Indians setting off firecrackers in the road. They went off around us like we were driving through a minefield, showers of sparks raining down around us. 

We were a few minutes early for our 7:00 reservation, so we decided to head up the Raintree's roof top restaurant. There, you could see the entire city laid out before you. As far as the eye could see, a blanket of continuous fireworks covered the entire city in all directions. Standing there, Elise and I knew it was something the kids would never forget. It was something we would never forget. 

The two weeks after Diwali were long. Elise wasn't feeling well. We put two contracts on our townhome in Jupiter. Both fell through. I've been carrying a mortgage on a house we do not live in for four months, and the burden is getting tiresome, to say the least. Money is tight. Clementine contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease from the playground, then gave it to Sam, Peter, and, lastly, Elise who was sickest and couldn't eat or drink anything, couldn't touch anything, couldn't even walk for the sores on her hands, feet and mouth for two weeks. Sam and Peter, both contagious stayed home for school for a week. It has been raining every day for weeks. Monsoon season. The weather is nice, but nerves were fraying.

Somewhere in there, we found small victories. Elise saw her first work in print. Peter comes home from school everyday with stars penned on the backs of his hands and on his cheeks for reciting the alphabet and solving math problems. Sam was the star in his Indian studies dance for Diwali.

In the pre-dawn, rain-splattered gloaming, Sam and I sent Elise to the airport to catch a flight to Jaipur. She will spend two days there before travelling on to Pushkar to photograph the camel festival, sleeping in a tent in the heart of the desert. She has already sent me a photo of the most amazing bar I have ever seen and her on the back of an elephant.

The kids and I are holding down the fort. We grocery shop, ride scooters around Boat Club, and gor for ice cream at Amadora. Sam rides in the back seat with his window down, chin on his elbow, the wind blowing through his air. Scooters, motorcycles and autos race by, horns honking. I don't think he thinks it is chaotic. To him, it is just normal. We stop at intersections, cars nosing one another to get through the light, no queue to speak of, and young men on motorcycles slow and smile at him. He smiles back, on the look-out for Royal Enfields. Last night, Clementine and I danced to Band of Horses' "Detlef Schrempf" in the kitchen, she clutching my neck like it is prom night.

If nothing else, we--all of us--are making memories. It astounds me when I think of the things they will remember about their childhoods. Looking out the car window up at a city bus with no windows and no doors. The buses don't stop or even slow at the bus stations, people hop off, landing in a run, and race to catch the bus and hop in, a maneuver out of an Indiana Jones movie. Sam looks up at the people on the bus. They stare back (Band of Horses: "My eyes can't look at you any other way"). Old ladies with ritual face paint smeared on their foreheads flash him toothless grins, and he just smiles back.