Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jingle Bells

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

First Rock Climbing Adventure

Elise and Clementine went into town and left us guys to have "boys day". We had no car and no plans, so after teaching them how to play Mastermind (as well as I could remember; the instructions were missing from the game), we headed down the street to the rec center, soccer ball in hand. 

We watched a youth ice hockey game until the climbing wall opened. Pete enthusiastically signed up and was soon on the wall.

And not to be outdone by his younger brother--though initially reticent--Sam eventually convinced me to walk back to the cashier and buy him a day pass, too. Good thing. He was a natural.

Pete looked on and cheered/heckled his brother.

"Hi, mom!"

And then Sam was done!

A Day at the Children's Museum

Don't worry! That last photo is not Pete and Sam rock-climbing (more on that in following posts!). They are miniature figurines from the model train exhibit.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Smalltown, U.S.A.

It hasn't been above forty degrees since we arrived in Cheney, Washington. This is no surprise and rather expected. The weather--as I understand it--is rather temperate this time of year. The kids have been wishing for snow, but--with the exception of brief flurries yesterday as I grilled chicken on the Weber--there has been no snow since we landed almost two weeks ago. We did see snowflakes the size of Lays potato chips as we went over Snoqualmie pass on the way to Seattle, but that has been it...much to the children's disappointment.

The weather is still cold for all of us, and the kids are at the age where they just simply need to run free. Being cooped up in the house--regardless of how warm and cozy it is--will drive everyone crazy...especially the adults. So it was imperative that the kids get outside ASAP. 

When we got back from Seattle, Elise had two photo sessions she had to edit. While she was working I marched the kids down the hill to the playground at the city park, despite the clouds and cold. The park is next door to the elementary school, and we watched as classes let out, the kids were dismissed. Buses came and went. We talked about the boys' new school in Fall Church or DC, wherever we should land, and I think it helps for them to see an American elementary school to give them some visiu point of reference. At least maybe now they will have some idea of what their immediate future holds. Elise and I have been trying to inspire home to keep up with their lessons, but with so little structure in our lives right now, it has been almost impossible for us to get them to concentrate on reading or arithmetic, much less science or social studies. Today, I explained to them the difference between professional and collegiate sports. Call it a civics lesson. 

In addition to talking about the upcoming Star Wars movie--which is ubiquitous not only in popular culture, but also as a topic of conversation when Sam, Peter, and Clementine go on walks like these (They have only seen the original Star Wars movie, but are enthralled (along with the rest of America) by the Star Wars mythos. I'm disappointed the new movie is rated PG-13, and that we will have to wait until at least the next installment before We can enjoy the excitement of going to see the new movie in the theater.)--we talked about what it meant to be a safety patrol, where our new house might be and how they might get to and from school. 

Sam said he liked Cheney. I like Cheney, too. For a brief moment I contemplated the simplicity of smalltown life, how much less hectic and stressful our lives might be if we weren't constantly moving from one country to the next, wondering what to pack in our sea freight versus out air shipment, not having to worry about where to stay for two months while we are in between assignments. In truth, I would be lying if I said I was envious of smalltown life. It is interesting to me as a direct point of comparison, the exact opposite of our own existence. That those who live in Smalltown, America, never leaving the same small town and living their entire life in one place, must be equally baffled how someone could constantly move, be in motion, never truly settled. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like if our train derailed, if we came off the tracks in Cheney and had to stay, had to find a job and enroll the kids in school. What would our lives be like? Could we find contentment? Could I be happy just tuning to the end of Bet Rd everyday, the same seven miles, over and over, the same rolling hills, as beautiful as they are, regardless of the season, knowing every step, every incline, of even hill. A nondescript patch of mud to anyone else would always be the same four mile mark, or six. 

It gets me to thinking of places as a generality. Why do certain places or small towns even exist? What keeps people there? What do people do for work in Cheney? Why is there a Medical Lake, Airway Heights, or Post Falls? I'm sure my father-in-law, a geography professor specializing in the Pacific Northwest would have a good reason each of those places existed, i.e. they were old railroad stops or trading posts. They're located at the confluence of two fur trading routes, but how do they persist, survive. I am even more impressed by the fact that places like Des Moines, IA and Omaha, NE have skylines, legitimate skyscrapers. Not small towns, I know, but how many accountants, roofers, dog walkers, florists can live in a place to sustain a viable economy? What do people do for work in Des Moines? Why is it there? (If you look it up on Wikipedia, the insurance industry is the, there...I answered my own question.)

Today, we had to get the kids out of the house again, so we walked down to the university with plans to play soccer in the field house. The students have all gone home for the holidays, and the town is deserted. The field house--though open--was vacant and dark. The lights in the gym were off, the indoor track locked. So we went back outside and played a three on two pick-up game of soccer. We ran the kids until Elise's ears started to ache from the cold, then we hiked back up the hill to the warmth of home. 

On a previous day, much similar to the one described above, we ended up at Zips for burgers, fries with tartar sauce, and marshmallow milkshakes. Without a home to call our own, stuck in limbo between our old home in Chennai and our new home at as yet to be determined location within the DC beltway, we find ourselves lingering in restaurants a little longer than normal as we are in no hurry to further impose on the kindness of our hosts. This state of being, as well as two years in India, may have aged me. I don't feel any older, but the woman who took our order didn't seem to agree. And so....this happened for the first time....

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Thoughts Underwater, Part Three

When not in the States, it's hard to think of the U.S. As having distinct cultural geographies. We all speak English. We all eat hamburgers and celebrate the 4th of July. This contrasts starkly with India which has something like twenty different languages and a striking division between the north of the country and south. The only real division I can think of is political. India has its political divides, too, and they are as divisive, but other than that America just sometimes seems like one strip shopping center after another from sea to shining sea.

Then, you land in Dallas.

I immediately appreciated the preponderance of cowboy hats. I loved that there were cowboy hats and country music everywhere even if it did seem completely preposterous on some level, because it was something uniquely American at a time when I am taking giant, purposeful gulps of all things American. As we were boarding our flight from Dallas to Portland, I even overheard a Hispanic man complimenting the young man behind him on his cowboy hat.

Though there was a sense of immediate calm upon arriving in Spokane, amidst the sense of safety and warmth, thoughts of our beloved Chennai permeated our thoughts for those first several days.

Chennai had been the victim of its heaviest monsoon rains in 100 hundred years. The entire city was beneath several feet of water. Many experts blame the economic boom and construction frenzy that made Chennai India's city for the current disaster. The international airport was closed for nearly a week, because all the runways were underwater. Our thoughts were not only with the friends and colleagues we had left behind but also with Sundar, Vasanthi, and Ms. Rita, our household staff that had taken such good care of us for the last two years. Their homes were flooded, all their material possessions washed away. 

It was hard to get information. Friends were marking themselves as "safe" on Facebook, when they had internet at all. Cell phone service was out across the city. We were getting sporadic updates via Facebook messages in the morning. Elise and I would compare notes as we poured the kids their morning bowls of breakfast cereal. "Did you hear from so-and-so?" "So-and-so said this, etc."

The rain persisted for several weeks before we heard the most crushing news of all. The wall to the CGR failed. Our house--the house we had moved out of only four short weeks ago--was filled with five feet of rushing water. Our house was vacant. Our neighbors' wasn't. They lost everything on the first floor. My boss's house next to the tennis courts was gone. My neighbor had to race from work in the middle of the day to rescue his family from the rising waters. He commandeered a mail truck and braved the standing water to reach his home. Photos on Facebook show him in waist-high water, carrying his youngest daughter from their home on his back. 

To say this hit a little too close to home is an understatement. Between Elise and I, there was a sense of survivor's guilt. Of course we are glad we missed the flood, but also wished we could have been there to help, though I can't imagine having to rescue my own children from rushing flood waters. One colleague described the flood waters as several feet "over sweet Clementine's head". There 's a thought to keep you lying awake at night.

Now, the rains have slowed but have yet to stop. There are even rumors of the sun showing its face. Photos on Facebook now are of heaps of garbage and not rats swimming through roads. Relief efforts are afoot. One inspiring photo showed traffic stopped for Muslims praying in the streets; the mosque has been washed away. And you can see how a country divided can be brought together in the face of adversity. Though I would never wish the same on our own country, it is sad to say what it needs is adversity to draw us together again--no, not a war, because it takes getting outside of the U.S. To see that we have so much more in common than we think and that regardless of whether we are from Dallas or NYC or Smalltown, Iowa, we are more alike than regional geographic stereotypes might allow. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Thoughts Underwater, Part Two

, Aunt Jackie was also kind enough to help us get the kids in tennis lessons. All the kids had picked up tennis with Coach Shiva and Coach Shrudan while in India. Being able to take group lessons at the North Palm Beach Country Club offered a rare continuity between life in Chenai and life in the States. We hope to continue lessons once we finally land in DC. Both Peter and Clementine took to Coach Marie's group lesson with an enthusiasm heretofore unseen in their previous lessons. With a shorter net, Peter was hitting nearly every ball over the net, and, according to Coach Marie, Clementine had a natural affinity for finding the sweet spot in her hit. If nothing else, the lessons provided some much needed structure amidst what was otherwise continuous chaos.

Toward the end of our stay in Florida, Elise had booked several family sessions and for a few afternoons in a row was having to work. The kids and I fell into the habit of heading down to the beach on these afternoons. We had no plans to swim or do anything other than wander up and down the sand, and we were able to spend a few very peaceful evenings as the sun set. Several hours on the beach went by much easier than if they had stayed stuffed in the condo. One would think that would go without saying, but sometimes the most obvious solutions are also the most elusive. The kids scattered in three different directions back at the rocks from which they were nearly washed out to sea on those first upside down days. Sam stood for hours on the rocks, staring out over the ocean, watching the waves crash against the rocks. Peter loitered nearby, peeking into the shallow pools carved into the rocks, and Clementine camped out on the dune, entertaining herself endlessly with an internal monologue the nature of which I could only begin to guess.

On our last night in Florida, we broke camp in the condo and--because we were leaving for the airport at 4 a.m.--stayed at my mom's. Elise had her final family portrait session, and I scurried the kids out of the house with promises of frozen yogurt so my mom could enjoy some much needed peace and quiet. We walked to the nearby strip center only to find that the frozen yogurt place had closed. It was nearly five and another of our favorite restaurants which just happened to be next door, Leftovers, had just opened. As former restaurant workers, Elise and I are easy to please yet pretty particular when it comes to eating out. Leftovers is one of those few restaurants where I would not change a thing (except maybe get rid of the TVs. I'm still not exactly sure why every restaurant in the States has to have a TV in it. I come from the school of thought that TV distracts from the ambiance, rather than contributes to it. I understand there are those evenings when a TV is Super Bowl Sunday or during the State of the Union those cases, a TV should be wheeled out on a cart). 

I brought the kids and sat them up at the bar. After much negotiation, we finally ordered a banana egg roll (with peanut butter and Nutella) and a slice of S'mores pie. I may have ordered a beer. But the lack of nap finally caught up to Clementine, and I spent most of the time there trying to keep her from crying because of the peanut butter. Best laid plans. 

As we were walking back to my mom's house, twilight hit--as it does in the winter--like a freight train, but as we came upon a group of neighborhood kids playing soccer, we felt ourselves drifting in their direction, thanks to Sam. Without hesitation (okay, maybe there was one quick backward glance), he insinuated himself into their game seamlessly. I am impressed and proud of his ability to quickly and confidently make new friends. But Pete does not yet have the same confidence. He wanted to play, but lacks Sam's natural deftness with a soccer ball and fearlessness. He's more shy and after two false starts, decided it wasn't his day to play. I was torn between advocating on his behalf, asking the kids if Pete, too, could join their game, and wanting him to forge his own path, weighing the merits of both courses of action on his future confidence. Doubtlessly, whatever I decided to do would not adversely affect him for the rest of his formative years, but I felt on some level that this was a step he needed to take for himself because it was something he was going to have to do many times moving forward, but if he did it and I helped him, would he even remember I was there if he recalled the incident?

In the end, he and Clem foot raced from tree to tree in the dark. It was Sam's day. Pete's will come. The next morning we would all rise at 4;00 a.m. to catch a flight to the Big D en route to the PNW. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughts Underwater

So the reason this journal has been filled with so many angst-ridden posts of late is a little thing called "home leave". I clearly recognize most anyone would qualify me as completely insane for complaining about a mandatory, forced two month vacation. After we complete an overseas assignment, my work forces me to take twenty paid office days to "reacquaint" myself with American culture. 

I used to scoff at such a notion. The world is smaller than ever. With American fast food chains replicating across the globe like bunnies, Amazon Prime able to  fulfill our every whim, and the ability to speak face-to-face with family via Skype, I discounted the need for reassimilation into American society, but the past few weeks--as I have so unelequenty attempted to recount herein--have proven that even in this day and age of modern connectivity, when two cultur s are so very different as India and America, there are unforeseen challenges when moving from one to the other and visa-versa.

We spent the first four weeks in my dad's vacant oceanside condo in Jupiter, Florida, my hometown. We then flew to Cheney, Washington, Elise's hometown. As soon as I got off the plane, I felt a sense of ease that had been alluding me in Florida. In the car on the way back from the airport, I attempted to explain to Elise's father just how hard the last four weeks were. I know I keep rehashing it over and over here, but I do that when I am bothered by something that I cannot wholly explain. I keep going over in my mind what exactly went wrong in those first four weeks in Florida in hopes that by understanding how a so-carefully-constructed plan could go awry, I can avoid making those same mistakes the next time we are forced to take home leave. I explained to Dan that home leave this time around was a confluence of a lot of difficulties. Jet lag. Reverse culture shock. Moving from home. Leaving Chennai. A feeling of limbo, being stuck floating between a point of departure and a destination. The fear of worrying about unwell family and catching up on the lives of those whose lives we had thought had been put in a sort of suspended animation for two years only to find out that two years passed in Florida the same way it did in India. 

After only two days, I can safely say that the second half of home leave is already better than the first. Elise's home is warm and comforting. Everything our vacant condo wasn't. Not having to worry about what's going to be for dinner for the last two nights has alone reduced my personal stress level immensely. I feel lucky to only be responsible for sweet potato fries (even though I ruined them).

This is not to say the first half of home leave was a complete disaster. The unequivocal highlight of our trip to Florida was the side vacation to Orlando. My Aunt Jackie and Uncle Bill were generous enough to share their timeshare points with us so we could all stay together, and my mom picked up five tickets to Disney which we never could have afforded otherwise without taking out loan. The day at the Magic Kingdom was truly magical. The kids favorite ride were the race cars in Tomorrowland; they went three times. All held up all day without naps or breaking down. On two separate occasions, Peter and I peeled off from the main group so he and I could ride roller coasters. First the Seven Dwarfs Mine ride and then Splash Mountain. One of the greatest things about Petey is that he literally cannot control his excitement. When he gets excited about something (like a new Star Wars--Force Awakens trailer or Splash Mountain), you can see the enthusiasm coursing through his body like lightning. It starts in his smiles and in his heart and runs down the length of his four limbs as though he's been electrocuted. It's wonderful to see and it is impossible not to share that same excitement when you do.

After we got off Splash Mountain (only lightly sprinkled), Pete and I tried to catch up with the main group in Adventureland, but were stopped by the Mickey Mouse parade. He was on my shoulders and as the parade went by, I glanced up at him and could see him waving to the characters unprompted; it was a moment right out of a Disney commercial. Mission accomplished.

My mom, Jackie and Bill were even kind enough to watch the kids so Elise and I could go on a much needed date night. It had been only the second such date night since we left India. The first date night we went to our favorite restaurant in Jupiter, Coolinary Cafe. This time we went to one of our old standbys--though a chain restaurant--Bonefish Grill. As far as chain restaurants go, Bonefish is pretty top notch. We sat at the bar (Elise looked at me before we saddled up to the bar. Seeing the empty bar stools, she said to me, "Sometimes, we like to sit at that bat." What she meant was, Always, we like to sit at the bar. We took our time. Drank beer and wine. Had bread with pesto. Stone crab claws were in season, a special and unexpected treat. AND complimentary dessert when we told the bartender we were escaping our three small children.

Elise and I aren't the only ones feeling the affects of the move. Sam, too, left a lot of friends behind. And hasn't played over with anyone is age in weeks. It's wearing him down not to have his favorite outlet. He's been quick to anger and short with his brother and sister. It goes without saying that leaving the comforts of the only home they can remember is not easy either. The last week or so we were in Florida were rainy and incredibly windy. One of the best mornings we had there we drive down to Juno Beach so the kids could ride boogie boards and play in the surf (There are a lot of rocks along the beach on Jupiter Island). On the way back to the condo, we stopped at one of our favorite lunch spots, Dune Dog. But because it had been so windy, we couldn't head down to the beach, and the kids were getting cabin fever, so I took everyone down to the grassy lawn adjacent to the condo to play soccer. Unlike Eliae who was the captain of her high school soccer team, I can't play soccer, but I can run. So Peter and I took on Sam in a pick-up soccer game. Sam jumped out to an early lead, but--with the wind at our backs--Pete and I quickly caught up, then took the lead. We weren't outside long, but that afternoon was one of my favorite during that stretch of our trip.

Boat Ride

The Most Beautiful Woman on the Face of the Earth

During our recent trip to Florida, we were fortunate to spend two days with Elise's dad--Granddad to the kids--on his way to South Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with his mother. 

The morning of day one we decided to drive down to Lantana to have breakfast at a seaside cafe called Benny's on the Beach. We picked up Granddad in front of his hotel and got on 95 to make the short drive down to south Palm Beach. In the car, Dan brought us up to speed on Turbeville family news. Elise's brother, Dan, and his new bride, Janice, are playing newlywed in their new single family home in Everett, WA, and Dave is continuing to see a girl he's been dating for about six months from Florence. Not Florence, SC but Florence, Florence. She is a jewelry exporter and spends much of her time jet-setting between NY, Palm Beach, and Italy. As the story goes, Dave caught her eye as he was tending bar at the Hyatt where he used to work. She had been staying at the Hyatt on and off for three years, and when Dave broke off an engagement with his previous fiancée, Camilla wasted no time expressing her interest in him. 

Dave was initially uninterested. He had just gotten out of one long-term relationship and wasn't ready to start another. When his friend told him that Camilla was interested in him, Dave suggested that he should take her out. Or so the story goes. they say...the rest is history. Dave has been to Italy. Twice. And the two of them are getting along great. The yin to his yang, they are saying, and given the pictures I've seen posted to Facebook, I believe every word of it. Elise's parents had a chance to meet her on their last trip to visit Dave in Florida. In describing her, Dan said she was, "the most beautiful creature on the face of this Earth." Or something very close and equally flattering. He went on to elaborate that what she lacked in physical beauty she made up for in grace. 

At the time, I was too caught up in the narrative to argue. As everyone who knows Dan can attest, he is quite the orator. One would be hard-pressed to have as successful a career as he has had as a college professor if he couldn't hold an audience. But later on, I got to thinking. Hey....wait a sec...I know someone else who may also be able to hold down that title. I kick myself now for not saying anything then, but in the spirit of family peace, it may have been best that I held my tongue. But I just would like it in the public record that Elise--though not Italian--is also quite stunning. 

We have moved on from Florida and are now spending time with Elise's parents in Cheney, Washington, in the home where Elise grew up and went to high school. Photos of her in high school are scattered around the house. On a precious visit, I told her I would have had a crush on her in high school, too, and it is true. We will celebrate ten years of marriage next month, and I think this fact bodes well for our relationship as we grow older together. 

Maybe there is something in a father's brain that doesn't permit him to think of his own daughter as beautiful, as a father would not have romantic feelings for his own daughter. I haven't crossed that bridge with Clementine yet. She is still just "cute", though has a beautiful disposition (most days. When she is well-rested and well-fed). I know Dan does not mean to lessen the beauty of his own wife or daughter (In Diane's home office, there is a now-framed card from him detailing the forty ways in which she is beautiful that he gave to her as a gift on her fortieth birthday) in extolling the virtues of his daughters-in-law (Today, in describing Janice, he commented that he could not have found a better daughter-in-law if he had gone down to Colorado and handpicked her himself), and I know I take superlatives too literally. But I can imagine one day thinking of Clementine as the second most beautiful woman on the face of the Earth. I just hope Peter and Sam follow their uncles leads and find women (or men) whose beauty rivals their mother's and sister's (or mine).

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Black Friday 2015

Yesterday, was a very low-key Black Friday after a wallop of a Thanksgiving. The kids were up until 10:00 (!!!) with no naps, so the next morning was a can I say this in a public forum such as the inter webs....bat $h!t crazy. The kids were acting like contestants from the show American Gladiator or extras from the set of any disaster movie--hands flung in the air, screaming at the top of thier lungs as though sprinting through the streets of a modern-day metropolis, fleeing a green screen baddie. They would have reluctantly but easily crashed for naps at 10:00 am, but we decided to go down for a walk on the beach to kill some time and get some fresh air, but the full moon tide left little beach to stroll on and the wind that has been whipping steadily for the past four days--ever since a so-called-cold front blew threw--had stripped any warmth from the condo pool. Everyone slept eventually. Elise decided to forego a trip to the mall for time on the couch. 

After naps, it was close to dinner so we decided to grab a bite of Mexican--free chips and salsa and tequila-less Margs as large as our heads. It's Peter's favorite and he packed away an entire steak enchilada. After dinner, the kids' interest was picqued by a gumball machine at the entrance to the restaurant. Only having seen one other before, a miniature gumball machine Elise has in her office (I'm not even sure if it works), they knew what it was, but had never had gum before.

A girl was plugging quarters into the gumball machine and the other vending machines that were selling a variety of plastic chachkies, so the kids asked us if we had any coins. Elise did. She had a one rupee coin and a five rupee coin. Neither fit into the machine. We tried.

I found a dollar in my wallet and sent Sam to the hostess stand in search of change. They got the quarters and put them into the gumball machine. 75 cents later, they had three gumballs, their first. We repeatedly emphasized the importance of not eating the gum. I may have even passed along the old wives tale that gum sits in your stomach u digestised for seven years.

The gumballs were so big all three looked and sounded as though they were chewing cud. I had to bite Clementine's gumball in half. It was amazing in that few could probably remember the first time they chewed gum, but they had never been exposed to bubblegum before. 

Needless to say. Peter's gum fell out of his mouth in the parking lot a few minutes later which precipitated a torrent of tears. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Hometown

I was born in Vero Beach, Florida. Shortly after I was born--though, obviously, the details are fuzzy--my parents bought a lot off a dirt road in what was then an unincorporated part of Palm Beach County, built a house, and moved me to Snug Harbor Drive off of Prosperity Farms Road where I (mostly) grew up. Our mailing address was in Lake Park, but at some point in time, our neighborhood would become a part of Palm Beach Gardens, though we were closer to Jupiter and I would end up attending Jupiter High School in 1986.

The Jupiter, Florida I grew up in is, I believe, a very different place than it is today. In the late '70s and early '80s I like to believe that the Jupiter, Florida I grew up in had more in common with Henry Flagler's Palm Beach of the 1930's or '40's than the place it is today. Though we had air conditioning and a few other modern conveniences, I remember a unique place habitable to only those inclined to feeling uncomfortable. It was hot, covered in scrub brush and palmetto trees. There were alligators, mosquitoes, cockroaches, snakes, and opossums. There was little to do. There was not yet a generation of stand-up paddleboarders or people doing CrossFit. As far as natural beauty was concerned, there was the ocean and sunsets, as there is now. People fished. They drank beer. In the afternoon, a county truck would drive through the neighborhood spraying pesticide to ward off the mosquitoes. It had a certain, rustic charm, I suppose. As far as hometowns go, it was fairly emblematic of small town America in that it was the exact type of place people left when they got old enough escape. Except for those who didn't.

In short, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

I may have written something similar in this blog before. I do recall struggling to articulate my feelings for Florida here. I have tried often to put into words why I feel the way I do for Florida, for Jupiter, for my hometown. I've even tried to Google, "What's wrong with Florida?" (Interestingly enough, search results often show weird shit people do in Florida. My favorite is titled "Florida Man" which features the zany misadventures of the typical Florida Man or Woman such as "Florida Man on Meth Robs 7-11 with Dead Stingray") I have this innate dislike of the area, but I couldn't tell you exactly why, because--on the surface--it seems nice enough, and maybe that is part of the problem. It has palm trees, beaches, nice weather, shopping, fancy restaurants, because it is a place most of the rest of the United States comes to visit. Developers have paved over and air-conditioned most of Florida. They've eradicated the mosquitoes and bulldozed all the scrub and replaced it with towering coconut and royal palms swaying in breezes, and created a picture-perfect oasis where it is impossible to feel even the slightest bit of discomfort. Like Disney, everything is a facade and everything feels the need to conjure the image of some other place, anything else. Very little is Old Florida anymore, and that, too, has become difficult to define. Instead, there are miles after miles of strip malls invoking the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Venice, Tuscany, Martinique, and Barcelona. We wouldn't keep coming back if my parents still didn't live here.

Controversy on the internet currently is focussed on the proposed development of an old waterfront trailer park. The parcel is slated for a super-dense mixed use project of residences, office, restaurant and commercial space along with a five-story parking garage. The density mimics a similar, new development nearby which features a luxury hotel and Tiger Woods' new restaurant. I suppose it would be hard to watch any small fishing village transform into a towers of concrete which ultimately benefits only a very small percentage of the town's populace...and most of those who will visit are seasonal residents. 

I am cautious not to let this devolve into a diatribe piting the haves vs the have-nots. Most--but not all--progress is good.

I think of so much in Florida as not being real. It is a vacationland pandering to those who are on holiday. This is good for me, because I only come on vacation, but I think it lulls those who live here into a false sense of paradise. That used to be me once, and I don't know why it bothers me so much that most who live here don't see it. I readily acknowledge I should not care as much as I do.

Of course, I could be making it much more complicated than it is. My favorite things in the world to do are run, ski, hike, rock climb and drink good beer. None of which (except recently drink good beer) can be done in Florida (you can run in Florida but 359 days a year it is an absolutely miserable experience.) 

Next week we depart for Elise's hometown in Washigton State which is much more my speed. It will be cold and snowy; much more my speed. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Long, Strange Trip

It had been a year and a half since we had been back to the States, or Western civilization for that matter. We stopped in London for three days on our way back from India and we felt like we had been hurtled fifteen years into the future.

It was soggy and cold in London in November. Not unexpected. After the eleven hour flight from Chennai to London, we checked into our hotel and decided to make the short walk to McDonald's, knowing everyone would be asleep by five--jet lag taking its toll early. We shuffled down the sidewalk, through piles of wet leaves, stumbling along practically, BMWs, Mercedes, Range Rovers, and Mini Coopers with halogen headlights swishing by on the pavement beside us; it seemed as though everyone in London drove a grey-colored luxury automobile, a stark contrast to India, where there was the occasional Audi Q5, idling alongside an ox-cart or cycle rickshaw.

When we walked into the brightly-lit McDonalds, our forward progress was immediately halted by a giant touchscreen menu. Animated menu selections danced across the screen. I demurred, not sure if I was ready to make this technological leap, a touchscreen menu board. After we did place our order with a real-life person behind the counter, she pushed the credit card machine toward me. I glanced at her, then regarded the machine warily, not exactly sure what I was supposed to do. I held out my card, but took no immediate action. I glanced back up at her and over to Elise. Elise knew I didn't know what to do, and when I attempted to slide my card through the machine as had been common practice a year and a half ago, the woman took the card from me and inserted the microchip embedded in the card into the machine for me. What would become even more confusing over the next few weeks is that the microchip is not universal, and sometimes you do still need to swipe the credit card and sometimes you do need to insert the microchip into the butt end of the credit card machine, but one thing you can count on is not to have anyone run the card for you. This, too, is a stark contrast with India, where there were routinely at least four service people ready to help you check out. Every commercial transaction required someone to carry your purchases from the store to the check-out counter, someone to check-you out, someone else to bag your purchases, someone to run your credit card, someone to give you your receipt, someone to verify your purchases against the receipt, someone to carry your purchases from the check-out counter to you car, someone to hold the door for you as you left the store, and someone to stamp your receipt as you left the store. Moreover, I was never allowed to do anything for myself. Now, I have to do everything for myself and I'm feeling a little helpless.

When Elise and I went to the cell phone store to get new U.S. sim cards, there was a guy in the store standing on a moving skateboard, except that you move forward and backwards instead of side to side as you would on a skateboard. We saw a security guard on one, too, in front of Buckingham Palace. I'm not sure what the contraption is called, a Segway without the handlebars. The guy in the AT&T store was using it to restock the shelves, so it seemed to me you could very well go through your entire day without walking or exerting oneself physically at all. At the same time, on TV, I saw two guys "swimming" with jet boots on. The boots are attached to a hose which is then attached to the end of the a jet-ski. The jet-ski somehow propels water through the hose at high pressure, creating a jet of water that propels the wearer of the boots twenty feet into the air like a dolphin. I'd never seen anything like either of these things before; it was mind-boggling.

Our second day in London, everyone was up at 2:30 a.m. After an hour of trying to keep them quiet, I finally turned on the TV and let them watch a British kids show, the Alphajacks, which--with a sentient green blob that regurgitated tiny green boogers--was the most bizarre kids show I had ever seen. I'm not sure if it was because I watched it in a haze or if....yeah, wow! was really freakin' weird! At 7:00, we went down for breakfast. It was the kids first exposure to real food, and we all indulged in the all-you-can-eat buffet. Peter ate his weight in pork sausage, ham, and bacon. Sam tunneled through a stack of pancakes, dusted with powdered sugar and doused in chocolate syrup. I drank three very strong cups of coffee and would still fall fast asleep a half hour later.

When everyone roused for the second time, we took the train into town. We got off near Hyde Park and walked the entire length of the park, drinking in the fresh air and stretching our legs after the long flight of the preceding day. We stopped at a hot dog stand and bought giant weiners for the kids. At that moment, I distinctly remember a new electric BMW driving by, traced in neon blue accents. It looked like something out of Tron and heightened my sense of being out of time, on another planet.

After two weeks, I think I am finally starting to get used to this strange, new world. I'm not entirely sure I like it, but I suppose I am stuck with it for now. I am still getting used to TVs blaring everyone, constantly inundating us with breaking news, stock tickers, and box scores. We had heard about the overwhelming number of choices in supermarkets compared to what we were used to seeing in Chennai. By keeping to the perimeter of the store and avoiding the interior aisles, we find we can avoid the Star Wars-ing of everything.

Now, we are in Florida, a nice place to visit.....well, I'll let you figure out the rest (more on that to come), and the long, strange trip continues......

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Our time together since we left India has been punctuated by moments of excitement between long stretches of crying, frayed nerves, screaming, and fighting. It is not easy leaving a place you had come to call home if for no other reason than to be deprived of the routine we thrived on. When you take that dislocation and add a scoop of fear of the unknown--not sure what our future lives hold for us or what our life will be like once we do touchdown in DC-- not to mention a heavy dose of jet lag, there is a kind of stress that is created that has not yet drawn us all together, rather threatened to rip us asunder.

Now that the worst of the jet lag is behind us, I am dealing with emotions I didn't know where there. It is true what they say about children keeping you in the moment. When you are dragging three exhausted, reluctant toddlers halfway across the world, feeding them, putting them to bed, bathing, them, and attenuating to their emotional needs, you have no time to take care of yourself or your emotional needs. You forget that you just moved and take for granted that you, too, may be hurting.

We stopped in London to decompress and get a jump start on the jet lag. We did have fun. We walked through Hyde Park. We rode the Underground and a double-decker bus. We visited the Museum of Natural History, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. We ordered room service and ate fish and chips. But all I remember is screaming at the kids. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I guess I took for granted how hard it was going to be. Elise accused me of not relaxing. I was done with work. I was on vacation. Surely, work couldn't be as bad as this. But she was right. I couldn't relax. I didn't realize it then. I didn't know I wasn't relaxed until we made it to Florida. I suppose, in my mind, I couldn't relax until I finished our journey. I guess--without realizing it then--I couldn't let my guard down because we were only halfway home.

It hasn't been much better since we've arrived in Florida. We spent the first week incredibly sleep-deprived and stressed out. we had to buy a car. Every day we didn't, the cost of a rental car got higher. We couldn't find the car we wanted within our budget, and cruising used car lots with three kids in tow was becoming increasingly less fun. I saw my mom and my dad and his family for the first time in over a year, but the reunion is now a haze. I was covered in a thick film of exhaustion and unable to experience the joyful event for what it should have been. I feel I have not caught up with them at all, but gone now is the opportunity to catch up. Questions that should have been asked during those initial meetings went unasked, and to ask them now would be awkward.

One morning, early on in our return to the U.S., I had to get the kids out of the vacant oceanside condominium we are currently calling home before they tore each other to shreds. Elise was putting the finishing touches on her latest assignment--her last in India--and needed some peace and quiet. We all did. I walked them to a nearby park and then down onto the beach. They splashes in the waves and looked for seashells in the sand. They found sea glass and explored tide pools in the rocks. They were carefree, and I didn't care if they got wet or sandy. It is what they needed, a few moments to do what kids do best.

After an hour or so, the three of them say on the rocks, watching the waves crash against them, sending seafoam spraying into the air. I'm not the photographer; that's Elise's job (sometimes much to her chagrin as she complains she has no pictures of her with the kids), and I don't always look for good photo ops like she does, but the three kids sitting on the rocks with the ocean spray shooting into the air behind them was going to be good. So I crouched in the sand to get the right angle and brought my phone to my eye to frame the shot and waited for a wave to crash behind them to get the shot. 

Just as a wave came, I got ready to take the photo, but the wave kept coming and crashed over their heads, overwhelming all three of them. For a split second, they were all gone, under the ocean. They tumbled over the rocks in the whitewash before reemerging further up the sand. They were soaked, sand in their hair, scratches on their legs, and crying.

I stood on the beach with three crying kids trying to assess if any of them were truly seriously injured. They weren't. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), I was just out of the guarded area. Maybe I was lucky, but for some reason I was never really worried, just embarrassed as I shuttled three crying kids over the sand and up to the showers to rinse off the sand and blood. Peter did scream, "I lost my skin!" "I'm going to bleed to death!" And a few other melodramatic pleas, but not only did they survive, they had a tale to share and retell for the next few days, a bonding moment; not that they needed another.

It is getting better. Gradually. We are on a vacation within a vacation and enjoying a few days in a timeshare compliments of Aunt Jackie and Uncle Bill and a day at the Magic Kingdon thanks to Nanny. Some of the magic rubbed off on us. We may be turning a corner. Before coming to Orlando, we instituted mandatory math classes to start the day, installing a small dose of order amidst the chaos. Or maybe just having TV and furniture makes the difference. Never underestimate the power eating off real plates may have.

Friday, November 13, 2015

அப்றோம் பார்க்கலாம்

It hasn't quite been two weeks since we left Chennai, but it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

Now that we are here in Florida, it all seems like a vivid dream. India does not feel distant. It feels as though if I peel back a layer of reality here, underneath lies that frantic streets of Chennai, and if I step through a doorway, I could easily walk from a room in my dad's vacant oceanfront condo in Florida into our kitchen in India and Rita at the stove, making chai.

But we have come back into a very different world. The night before we flew from Chennai to London does seem like a blurry, distant dream. The last days in India were hectic--as was to be expected when on the precipice of a big move. We packed out our house, winded down our lives in India, and run a hundred last minute errands. All I remember now was that it was raining.

We got on the plane early on a Tuesday morning. Two of the drivers from motorpool helped us wrestle seven suitcases, six carry-ons, and three car seats into two vans bound for the airport. The kids, bleary-eyed, piled in on top of Elise, and we moved through the eerily quiet streets of Chennai for the last time, much the same way we came in, already sleep-deprived, under the blaze of an omnipresent yellow halogen glow.

The preceding Saturday was Halloween. At the last possible moment, Elise landed one more assignment in Chennai, and so--on top of everything else--spent most of the weekend racing from one neighborhood to another working. The movers had come through two weeks before, clearing out everything. And I mean everything. The kids did not have a single toy to play with for two weeks. It tested the limits of their ingenuity and our sanity. I am usually reluctant to let them make pillow forts, but in the absence of any other form of distraction or entertainment, I was forced to acquiesce, and their primary activity for two weeks was jumping on the couch. Elise took Sundar and the car for work, so I was faced with the unpleasant task of keeping three rambunctious children from killing each other. Did I mention it rained on Saturday. All day. Anyway, by the end of the day, all were sliding on couch cushions down two flights of marble steps. Under adult supervision and backed by the Star Wars opening theme. Of course, we didn't pack our portable speaker.

That afternoon--with Elise still at work--I took Sam to his best friend's birthday party. He lived down on the ECR (East Coasty Road) halfway to Fisherman's Cove, and we took an Uber forty-five minutes each way in Chennai traffic to spend thirty minutes at the party. It was important to Sam, and Elise and I weren't the only ones saying goodbye to friends. The kids were, too. I wanted to do this for him even if it meant making Halloween incredibly hectic and logistically complicated.

We finally made it back at 5:30, half an hour late for Halloween "trunk or treat". Rita had Clem and Peter in their Halloween costumes, ready to go, lightsabres drawn. Without a car or anything to decorate it with, I Uber-ed with the kids to the party. Elise met us there later.

I came home from work on Monday, our last night in Chennai, to Elise in the kitchen drinking champagne with Rita, our nanny and cook, and Vasanthi, our maid. All were giggling. Vasanthi had never had an alcoholic drink before in her life. Babu, our gardener, tracked me down for a letter of recommendation. After, telling him I would write one upon our return to the States, though he was soggy from the rain, I invited him in, too, and gave him a going away Kingfisher. He drank champagne embarrassingly before slinking out the back door, possibly crying. I couldn't tell.

Elise and Rita said goodbyes while I attempted to hunt down an Uber for Rita. Perhaps fittingly on our last night in India, the Uber driver couldn't find our house even with the benefits of GPS, and she eventually took an auto. Of course, the evening wouldn't have been complete if the tailor didn't stop by to demand more of our time. The woman is an excellent seamstress, but cannot take a hint, and she sat on the couch and watched Elise and I say a tearful goodbye to Sundar.

I had not been looking forward to this. Sundar was the first person we met in India. He was our driver from day one until the very end, and neither Elise or I had gone anyway in Chennai without him. New to a completely foreign country, I had to trust him, but didn't know if I could. I justified it by telling myself I had to trust someone. He wasn't always perfect, and when Elise lodged complaints against him (which were infrequent) I had to weigh the benefits of doubling-down on that trust versus changing course and recognizing the trust had been misplaced; It was not always an easy relationship.

In the end, I had made the right decision to trust him. Call it luck or something more was India, after all.

To someone who is used to doing be so careful with decisions and to do so much due diligence before committing to anything, I struggled to find a way to tell Sundar that I had trusted him blindly, partially out of necessity, and that he had not failed or betrayed that trust. When so many of our colleagues complained about their drivers, Sundar was the poster boy for reliability. No matter what we asked of him, he never, ever, said no, and always said, "Everything no problem."

And so I let this man I didn't know drive my family around in a foreign country we knew nothing about. Crazy, I know, and yet it was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

I hugged Sundar, the man who would bow to me and touch my shoes in an undeserved blessing. I didn't know what else to do. He received it stiffly, trying not to tear up, I think.

"Thank you,"I told him, Elise looking on, "I trusted you with my family, and you did not let me down. Not once. I trusted you."

In Tamil, "goodbye" is "அப்றோம் பார்க்கலாம்" or "Aprom parkalam". The --alam ending is the conditional tense, literally "I may see you later." This is said regardless of whether you work with the person and will definitely see them tomorrow or you don't know the person and most likely will never see them again in your life. It's interesting how this part of Indian philosophy is reflected in the language, that everything is possible and a lack of commitment to a certain outcome.

It is also a fitting way to say goodbye to Chennai, anything is possible. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween 2015

If we're being honest.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bread that Tastes Like Rain

Last night, I came home famished. I plowed through the front door, threw my work bag on the counter and went straight for the fridge. Rita and Elise had ordered Afghan chicken from Zaitoon, arguably the best chicken on the planet. It comes with pita and hummus. Neither are that great. Chennai is not known for its Mediterranean cuisine. I ripped a bite out of the rubbery pita. "This bread tastes like rain," I said to no one in general. It tasted like that mossy, earthy smell after a fresh rain. It could have been the rain or the antibiotics I am taking to ward off a particularly stubborn butt fungus. Sorry. Maybe that was TMI..."Too Much Information".

Elise had spent the day brainstorming for an upcoming photo shoot. It would be her biggest break yet, and even though we were leaving India in five days, she had strategically plotted every shot she needed in order to fulfill the assignment. She was floating with excitement. The soles of her feet did not touch ground.

A few moments later, a second email came through saying confirmation for the assignment has not yet come out of HQ in NYC. She came crashing back to Earth, shattering into a million fragile shards.

She poured herself a pint glass full of wine, then accused me of jinxing her assignment by sharing the news in my excitement. Maybe I did (she would apologize later), but her disappointment was palpable...and understandable. The thing is...the assignment may still be hers...she just won't be in India to fulfill it.

I cut up Afghan chicken in silence, saving all the dark meat and skin for myself, guilty pleasures. A scream cut through the air. Coming from the living room, it shattered whatever relative calm had settled in the kitchen. Peter was sobbing in the living room, and Elise and I rushed to his aid, wine in her hand, chicken slime on my fingers.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

Peter could not stop crying. Sam stood in the door frame separating the living room from the stairwell guiltily.

"He chased me down the stairs," Pete finally managed.

"Why are you chasing him?" either Elise or I asked.

"I want to play with him, but he doesn't want me to be the ground forces!" he spurted accusatorily.

"So, you chased him down the stairs!?"

"He could've fallen!" Elise added.

Eventually, Pete stopped crying, and we all slinked away. Dinner was served. Pete was talkative at dinner, telling us about the Halloween decorations hanging at school.

About halfway through dinner, though, he edged closer to me. He looped his arm through mine. Conversation turned to recess. Sam plays soccer everyday at recess with a group of young Brits. He is popular and athletic and has no trouble assimilating himself into the matches, even if older kids try to wedge him out.

Not Pete.

It's not that Pete is nonathletic or unpopular. It is dangerous to label a kid so young. Any kid, for that matter.

"I don't have anyone to play with," he whispered.

Elise and I immediately challenged this notion. I told him the day I came to school and surprised him, I saw him on the playground playing with two little girls, and Elise asked him who else is on the playground that he might ask to play with.

"There's nothing to do, but make footprints in the mud on the slide."

I don't believe that Peter will always be that kid wandering the edge of the playground by himself. He may not even be that boy now. It's difficult to parse the truth from what little we know about his school day or to know how much of what he tells us is just how tired he is at the end of the day. I suppose it may not matter if that's what his perception is. Does it really matter if one day he plays with one or two kids if he feels as though he has no one to play with?

"What about Louie's sister? Can you play with her?"

I didn't know what else to say, but I refused to let my heart empty. I wasn't going to have the same visceral--and ultimately useless--response I had when I heard kids were picking on him on the bus. I just wish everyone could see how hilarious Pete is.

I already read a few articles online that might help. It's hard to know which behaviors are normal parts of growing up and which are products of our upcoming move from India.

Probably, they are a little bit of everything.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Saddest Boy on Earth

Last night, I got home from work a little late. I didn't leave the office until 5:30 and--after stopping at the store--it was after 6:00 before I walked in the door.

The usual cacophonous din seemed a little more pitched than normal, as though the molecules in the room where vibrating just a hair faster than they usually do. The house is always crazy when I get home. The boys have usually just gotten home and are unspooling from a long day at school, ditching shoes and stripping socks, dropping backpacks at the door, stomping off to the kitchen for a snack, bowls of Cheerios, chocolate milk, or idly. Maybe it wasn't any crazier than usual. Maybe it was just me.

When we sat down to dinner, the chaos continued. Since school started, dinners have not been the quiet, restorative affair we might want them to be. The times when we all sit down together, catching up on each other's days often disintegrate into fighting over who will give thanks, crying, name-calling, someone lying down in their chair or hiding under the table, dissections of the contents of their plates, refusing to eat, drinking all their milk then asking for water before eating anything, wiping ketchup on their clothes, arguments over eating vegetables, threats to withhold dessert. I don't think this is unusual for families with kids this age.

Peter's school day is long. I don't know how long the day is for kindergartners in the States, but Pete gets on the bus at 7:30, drives an hour to school, goes to class from 8:30 to 3:30, then gets home at 4:40. He has two "specials" a day which can include Indian Studies, Art, P.E., or Music. He has two snacks, three recesses, and lunch in any given day. No wonder he's tired. It makes me completely exhausted just typing it all out.

Add all this to the fact that he is often the first to rise. Pete gets up between 5:00 and 5:30. Many days I get up before him, but every once in awhile, I am woken by the sound of his opening the door to the downstairs or by the swish of him walking in his pull-up or by one of his tiny rooster sneezes.

But even though Pete's school day is long, he gets up early, he comes home exhausted, and he is often surly in the evening, last night, he was more surly than usual. I should have known something was wrong. He snapped at Clementine, "Shut up, baby!" Which, in and of itself, is, sadly, not uncommon, but he was snapping at everyone. He told me he hated me. He may have called me "old man".

Sam told us how annoying Pete is on the bus. Pete told us that Sam never sits next to him. The next thing we knew, Peter burst into tears, crying, "They say I eat off the floor!"

It hit me like a punch to the stomach...that moment when your son is hanging out there and all you want to do is protect him but can't.

One of the older boys teased Peter when he saw him pick something up off the bus floor that he had dropped. The fact that it happened at all makes me sick. Evidently, Sam saw the whole thing happen and didn't come to Pete's defense. We're not raising perfect children, but Sam caught an earful from his mother about what it means to be a big brother.

I didn't know what to say. Transported to having suffered through similar moments at a similar age, I was too stunned to say anything. All I wanted to do was hold Peter, but Elise made me snap out, telling me it wasn't going to do any good to feel sorry for Peter; we had to give him the tools to deal with these situations on his own.

She's right. Of course.

I may not have been the saddest boy on Earth, though sometimes it felt like it. I have to make sure the same fate doesn't befall Peter.

Monday, October 26, 2015

One Week

Sadly, we have only one week left in India.

Elise and I have been spending a lot of time telling the kids about the wonders of America, but I don't think we are fooling anyone. We are not going on vacation. We are leaving our home. Perhaps, this is the only home the kids really know. Certainly, Clementine and, probably, Peter, know no other home, and Sam--though he professes to remember our apartment in Falls Church and our sweet little pousada in Brasilia--most likely remembers them as places and not as home, a place that is with family and familiar and safe.

On Sunday, I woke up feeling listless and unmotivated. I had meant to get up early to go running, but couldn't make myself get out of bed. Uncharacteristically, I told myself, "What's the point?" Later in the morning, I thought I was depressed. Likely, I was being too self-analytical, but it's times like these, I tend to take for granted moving is one of life's major stressors. The fact that we have moved five times in as many years, doesn't make it any easier, and it will most certainly be as hard to leave India as it was to leave Brazil...maybe harder. I guess what I have to tell myself is that it is okay to feel sad.

Come to find out, I may have been fighting something. Later in the day I had a sore throat. Sometimes, the reason we feel a certain way is more simple than we make it.

When Elise and I took the kids to see the Taj Mahal it was a four-day sojourn. Intentionally so. Some may be able to fly from Chennai to Delhi, drive from Delhi to Agra, see the Taj Mahal, drive back to Delhi from Agra, and fly back to Chennai from Delhi in a single day--maybe two--but with three kids, we felt the best way to travel was to break each leg up into one manageable day. On the second or third night, exhausted, in a strange hotel bed, Peter burst into tears, wailing for his own bed. I am dreading that moment that I am sure is to come....when Peter again bursts into tears, wailing for his bed in India, under the mosquito netting, and Elise and I are filled with crippling sorrow and longing and all we can do is hold Peter, hold onto each other, and hold our family together.

Last night at the dinner table, conversation turned to the inevitable, our upcoming departure, now only one week away.

Sam starred off into space. It became clear a moment later that he was thinking deeply. "I have a lot of friends here," he murmured. His bottom lip began to quiver. Elise's eyes welled up with tears.

I had lunch yesterday with my new boss who has been in the business for several decades. His kids, too, were raised overseas. I asked him when the moves started to become especially hard for the kids. He noted one move when their oldest was 16 and hated the U.S., everything that America stood for, and didn't want to leave South Africa or his friends there. He qualified this by explaining the United States was at the nadir of its global popularity, but still I gathered that I had at least eight to ten years before I really had to worry about dragging truculent teenagers around the world.

To be clear, Sam was not being truculent, nor would I ever accuse him of being so. But his sadness did dissolve into full-on moaning later, induced by exhaustion from the too-long school day. We're all tired. Exhausted. As nauseous gases float back at us from the toilet or shower, we imagine that these invisible vapors  that we have been inhaling for the past two years can't possibly be good for us and, yet, we cannot imagine a future where a day doesn't begin with chanting floating from across the Adyar River, through the windows and into our house at 4:45 a.m., or the bathroom doesn't smell like raw sewage.

It is a little scary for all of us. This is our home. Like it or not. Love it or leave it. Right now, we have no where else to go. Next week--after spending a few nights in London--we will be sleeping on blow-up mattresses on the floor in my dad's empty oceanfront condo, eating off paper plates with plastic silverware. We are excited to see friends and family, eat hamburgers, drink beer. We know a new adventure awaits us and that we will have a new home soon, a beautiful, comfortable home that at some point in the future we will dread leaving, too, but for now we have to tell ourselves it is okay to be sad. We don't have to be more excited to eat Taco Bell than we are sad to leave our home in Chennai.

This will be a hard week.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

India Day!

Every day is India Day for the Hanna family, but today was extra special. Dhotis and tiger tooth necklaces for their India Day school assembly. Mr. Sundar helped the boys pose traditional South India-style for the portrait. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

For the Birds

Last week, I stepped out of the car and got pooped on by a crow. We were getting out in front of Jasmine Tailors where I was having a custom-tailored suit made. Fancy, I know. I was just about to get Clementine out of her car seat when I feel something hit my head and shoulder. Sure enough, it's bird poo. I remembered instantly how much we made fun of Carlie when he got pooped on by a seagull when my dad took my brothers and I to Busch Gardens. It was the end of the day, and we were waiting for the tram to shuttle us out to our car baking in the parking lot. Fortunately, the crow poop was nothing like the seagull poop which fell on my brother that day. He was covered in a splash of white poop like you would see splattered across docks or the bows of fishing boats in port. Not surprisingly, none of us could stop laughing...except Carlie who could not stop crying.

Fortunately, my incident wasn't nearly as hilarious...until Sundar, our driver, insisted upon trying to clean it off me. I was actually really appreciative and I'm sure Elise was, too, because if Mr. Sundar hadn't leaped to the task, I would have had to ask Elise to try and wipe bird poop out of my hair. Mr. Sundar had no compunctions, and immediately started wiping it out of my hair with his bare hand. Then, Elise handed him a bottle of water, and he bent me over and started pouring water over my head. For the most part (I think), we got it all out, and we could go on with our day, but the whole thing wouldn't have been very funny at all if it weren't for Sundar going waaaaaay above and beyond the call of duty.

Evidently, it is good luck in India to be pooped on by a bird. We'll see. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Five Stages of Saying Goodbye

The five stages of loss and grief are well-documented. Originally proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross "On Death and Dying", they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We went through something similar after leaving Brazil. It was a change we were reluctant to make. I remember one evening shortly after moving into our furnished corporate housing in Falls Church during the dead of winter. I slunk slammed a few beers and slunk off to bed without saying a word to Elise. The next morning, she called me out on it and said if that was the way it was going to be here then she wasn't going to put up with it. Of course, that wasn't the way it was going to be in Falls Church, but I don't think either of us knew at that point in time what it was going to be like.

I was truculent, and only after a few months--when spring started to pop its head up again--did I begin to hypothesize that maybe I was suffering a little but of seasonal affective disorder. It would not have been unreasonable to think so. We had just spent two years in sunny Brazil after spending ten years living in sunny South Florida.

Perhaps, I am making too much of our transition back to the States. I think about it a lot. I am usually not one to make a big deal of nothing. We may not have experienced all five stages of loss and grief after leaving Brazil. I don't think there was anger, per se. It's not like we lost a loved one. But there was definitely some depression, acceptance, dealing with emotions we were not used to dealing with. I imagine it will be much the same after leaving India.

First of all, the kids are going to freeze their butts off. They get cold when the mercury dips below a frosty 85. We can be swimming at the pool, and it literally--LITERALLY--be 100 degrees out and one of them say that they are freezing to death. After South Florida, Brazil, and now South India, we could be moving to the desert and they would be cold. Plop them down in Eastern Washington State in December or, maybe worse, as unbelievable as that may seem, Falls Church in January and they might as well be going on a polar expedition to Antarctica. It doesn't help that they have no winter clothes. Thankfully, Elise has started to replenish their winter wardrobe, culling various internet retailers for off-season specials.

I believe I am experiencing stages of saying good-bye to Chennai. There may be five. I don't know. Gone, now, is Stage 1, the phase where I am completely exasperated with everything and everyone Indian. It was short-lived, perhaps a week or two, capped off by a bout with some mysterious tropical, perhaps mosquito-bourne, illness, but seemed to last forever.

By way of example, the roads in Chennai are narrow. Oftentimes, for lack of anyplace else to park, cars line both sides of the road, meaning what was once a two-way street, in essence, becomes a one-way street, but going in both directions. It seemed to me, during my "completely exasperated with India"-phase that every time we would take one of these roads, a car would come in the opposite direction.

The oncoming car would flash its lights--presumably, a single to stop; it was coming through. Mr. Sundar would not stop, and in some absurd game of chicken, both cars kept moving forward even though there was only enough room for one to pass, until both cars were essentially wedged into the street with nowhere to go, because now traffic was piling up behind both of them. It was maddening to watch, when I could so obviously see how this was going to turn out and it could so clearly have been avoided. Again, in a country of one billion people you don't get anywhere by backing down from a game of chicken or ever yielding the right of way, but, ironically, now both cars were immobilized. It seems like a metaphor or an allegory, but for what, I dare not speculate.

Thankfully, that stage of saying good-bye is over, and now can watch two cars wedge themselves into inescapable logjams feeling only weepy sentimentalism.

I ran to work this morning, taking advantage of the fact that I have a driver whose only task at that hour of the day is to drive my clothes to the office for me, a luxury I most certainly will not have in Washington.

It was cooler, though still humid. I ran down Chamiers, and took a quick left at the corner of Greenways. I came up on a guy washing a car on the side of the road. I approached the car from the rear, quickly, as he was washing the hood, and just as he doused the front windshield with a bucket of water, I ran by the side view mirror. He didn't see me coming, and I didn't see the bucket of water coming, and I got drenched. The young man was instantly apologetic, and I could not be mad. The guy, actually, had just done me a huge favor. And I was almost brought to tears by his profound and genuine regret. Damn you, India. I waved him and smiled. He seemed relieved. I ran on.

So, now I am at the stage of saying goodbye to Chennai (the second stage?) where I am just overly sentimental and in love with everything about it. It helps some that the heat has tapered off somewhat.

Recently, a colleague who will soon be moving to Hyderabad sent me a message on Facebook asking me if I would extend our two-year assignment in Chennai a third year (we can't; this is all hypothetical). I replied without hesitation, "In a second."

It hasn't always been easy, but it most certainly hasn't always been hard either. We haven't been back to the U.S. in eighteen months. Do I need a break? Yes. Would I come back after a few weeks in the States? God, I wish we could.

This morning, Elise sent me an email, the subject of which was "woodlands?": "When can I take you to woodlands for lunch?"

Me: "I was just about to email you about this!!!! can you do today? what time do they open? the earlier the better. are they close to the Consulate? I don't have any money until after lunch : ( "

Woodlands is one of Elise's post-photowalk lunch spots that she has been raving about for the last two years. For some reason, I've never got around to going. We rectified that today, two South Indian thalis later. Surprisingly, they do not offer filter coffee after 12 p.m., so we had Mr. Sundar pull us up to the filter coffee stall outside the fruit market we frequent. Two coffees was fifty rupees or thirty-eight cents each. The coffee comes boiling hot, and we poured our coffees back and forth, South Indian style to cool it off, as we stood at the one table outside.

Traffic passed as we chatted, about her brothers, about Sam.

"How did you know I would say yes to go to Woodlands today?" I asked.

"Because you ran to work this morning, and I knew that you wouldn't be running at lunch."

I loved that she knew this about me. I shouldn't be surprised after ten years that she would. So, there will come a stage, perhaps, where everything old becomes new again. As we start to visit usual haunts that have become unconsciously familiar, we will rediscover that which made them special in the first place. It will be a long goodbye.