Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sports Day! (Part II)

Elise took Clementine to watch Sam's Sports Day at school today. I received the following in an email from them while I was at work:

"Me: Sam's having a watermelon break

Clem(as if she hadn't seen you in a hundred years): daddy LOOOOVES watermelon.

Lol. Do you really?"

I like watermelon. I wouldn't say I LOOOOVE it. That being said, I would probably eat cantaloupe for that girl who I do LOOOOVE. And I really don't like cantaloupe. 

Sports Day!

Those shoes (and this kid) are super fast! I love his hands. Just like the Flash. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Innocence Not Yet Lost

Elise and I and the kids just got back from two nights at the beach at Fisherman’s Cove. It went by way too fast. Elise and I didn’t fully relax until it was time to pack-up and head back home. Neither of us are feeling quite ourselves, and it’s been awhile since we’ve had any down time. The longer you go without a break, the longer it takes for you to flush the BS out of your system, and it has been a long time, since August, I’d gather. That’s a lot of BS.

It takes time to think about nothing, to clear your head. You can unplug, turn the cell phone off, but the gears are still turning, still processing old information even if no new information is coming in. I felt emotionally constipated. Blocked up. As stuffed up in the brain as I was in my nasal passages.

It’s sad to say we went to a beach resort and never really relaxed, but it wasn’t a wasted trip. The kids had fun. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. It was for them, anyway. Like going to Disney World. You do it for the kids. Unless you’re one of those weird, childless couples that goes to Disney World in matching Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and ears, awkwardly waiting in line to get your picture taken with belle from “Beauty and the Beast”. (I will admit that Elise and I went to Epcot before we had kids, but as I recall, we just pretty much drank ourselves around the world).

We can talk about the kids right in front of them and they have no idea we are talking about them. That should be an indicator of how good their listening has been recently. At this age, you can still say things like, “Well, at least the kids had fun.” and it can go completely unheard.

I miss that kind of naiveté, the innocence of a child. I try to remember back to when I didn’t know about all the scary shit that went on in the world around me. My parents watched NBC Nightly News, but even then it was background noise. I think this is one of the best things about being a child, a sense of complete and total obliviousness, and I try to keep our kids as oblivious as possible which isn’t always easy.

The last time we had come to Fisherman’s Cove, they were all about the pool and the swim-up bar. They did their share of swimming, too, but the beach was a much bigger attraction than it was last time, though they never got in the water. Sadly, the beach was filthy, strewn with garbage. I swam in the ocean last time, but not this time. I wouldn’t have been able to swim five feet without being wrapped up in some piece of random plastic, fishing line, a net, or discarded sari. There was a garbage line on the beach, much like a seaweed line on the beach in Florida. Plastic wrappers and empty plastic shampoo bottles, but the kids didn’t even seem to notice.

They ran down to their favorite spot by the rocks, watching the tide go in or come out. Sam scrambled over the rocks and just sat their staring out at the sea; I wondered what was going through his mind. Clementine and I made sand castles. Peter ran in and out of the surf, skipping playfully around the garbage at his feet.

When we lived in Brazil and I would drive my family to my office, we had to stop the car at the gate of the building and turn the engine off while the guards checked under the chassis and hood for bombs. At first, I didn’t know how to explain this to Peter and Sam, so I told them that the guards were nice enough to check our engine and oil for us every time we drove to the office. They were young enough at the time that it actually worked; they believed me, and innocence was maintained.

Our neighbors here in India recently lost a child at birth. They have pictures of the baby hung in the living room and dining room of their home. Elise accepted an invitation for the kids to play with their kids and discovered the pictures. Clementine pointed at one and asked what it was. I don’t expect to hide everything in the world from them forever. To keep them unknowledgeable about death—especially in India where death is celebrated openly and mortality is, daily, right in front of your face—is especially difficult…if not impossible. We drive by the precariousness of the human condition every day on the way to work or school. But it is my job to protect my children, and I will be the one to decide when they learn about death. That is my right as a parent, and I won’t let anyone take that away from me.

I try to remember when I lost that innocence, the moment I became aware of the world around me. Wars happened when I was a kid. I read about them now. The Middle East was blowing up. People were lined up for miles waiting to fill their cars with gas in the early 80’s, but I didn’t know anything about it. Doubtlessly, stick markets crashed, rebounded, crashed again.

It may have been 9/11. I think even when I still lived in Colorado I was fairly naïve about the world, happily ensconced in my life of waiting tables and going to grad school in small, snowy hamlet at the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

My dad is a worrier. He worries constantly. He watches the Weather Channel and worries about the weather, coming freezes, the tides. He worries about too much rain and not enough rain. He watches the stock ticker spin by at the bottom of the financial report and he worries about his stocks, his savings, his retirement, his financial portfolio, his taxes. He worries about Republicans and Democrats. He believes—at times—some of what they say on Fox News, though I like to think him smarter than that. The people on Fox News may be smarter. Not smarter. They just know how to get into your psyche, to push the panic button, to make you worry. There is a whole industry, an economy that profits on worry, and they can proliferate worry and angst for their own financial gains. People can be that manipulative. Popular media is that manipulative. They can take current events and mold them and present them in such a way as to maximize worry, to promulgate angst, to sell TV ads.

I am not a worrier. Never have been. Knowing about the world does necessarily mean I worry about it. I don’t watch CNN. That helps. I love living overseas mostly for that reason. So I don’t have to be constantly inundated by bad news. Even if I don’t worry about it, it doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t seep into my brain and affect my subconscious in perfidious ways. I hate that about being back in the States, the fact that you can’t even go out for a burger and a beer without having the TV on, tuned to Breaking News.

There is always Breaking News. Even when there isn’t.

I wonder if in order for children to stay innocent there has to be a worrier, a sentinel. Was I able to not worry about presidential election results or guerillas marching through the Congo because my dad was there to worry for me. Am I failing my kids by not filling that role for them?

They will become more aware more quickly than I am ready. The fact that they already know we will not live in India forever and have already started to ask where we will go next—though it is a year away—startled me.

We try to keep them focused on the present. In the coming weeks, this will become increasingly hard as our new bid list comes out and we start lobbying for our next post. Talk of the future will be impossible to avoid, but, in this, too, it will be important to keep them in the present. Peter is already talking about kindergarten, though he has a whole semester of pre-school in front of him.

And that is all I want him to think about.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rocky Mountain High

I have to admit I have been missing Colorado tremendously lately.

After I graduated from college, I moved back to Florida. I wasn't quite sure what to do next. So, I moved back in with my parents until I could figure it out. I waited tables and also tried a turn as a youth counselor, seeing if I wanted to pursue a career making use of my higher education studies in psychology.

I quickly decided that pasth wasn't for me. What I wanted to be most in life was a writer, but my grandmother challenged me early on, asking, "What are you going to write about? You haven't done anything?"

She was right. I hadn't done anything. At least, nothing worth writing about, so I resolved to do something worth writing about.

I decided to move west.

I don't know if I did anything worth writing about, but I am glad I went, nonetheless.

Not unlike one of my inspirations at the time, Jack Kerouac, I packed up the back of my Jeep Cherokee with whatever it could hold and started driving. I had a college buddy living in Colorado, so I went there and moved into the basement of the house he was renting, sleeping on a folded up sleeping bag on the floor. I went through a couple of different restaurant jobs, until I found one of the best bosses I would ever work for in one of the best restaurants in any corner of the country.

I had been to Colorado before. My dad took us skiing a couple of times to Copper Mountain; I was drawn to the place. I wanted to go back to the mountains, the snow and the evergreens.

I lived in Colorado for four years. I still don't know why I left, but I am glad I did, because if I didn't I never would have met Elise.

Shortly after Elise and I got married, we decided our fates lied west of the Rockies. I took two trips back to Denver to find a job and move the budding family west. The only job I was offered was one working with the Forest Service in Portland, Oregon. I had interviewed for the job by phone, sitting in my hotel room in Denver surrounded by the rotting remains of a late-night Chiptole burrito wrapped and empty bottles of Fat Tire. The salary--though good--wasn't quite enough to make the move. I was flying on fumes by then, burning through my savings quickly as the commercial real estate market in Florida was detirorating quickly. I was trying to catch a falling knife.

A few months later, I would be offered my current job, shortly after our second son, my guiding light, the beacon of hope that pulled me from the doldrums I was experiencing then, was born.

And then, Sitti, yes, I would have adventures worth writing about. I am sad you did not get to hear of them or meet your granddaughter-in-law and our children. You would have loved her.

I do not think about Colorado frequently.

I am currently reading a book my mom gave me for Christmas. The Dog Stars written by Peter Heller, best known as a contributor for Outside magazine, one of my favs. It is a post-apocalyptic yarn. Upon discovering this when I first picked up the book, I almost didn't start it; I felt like the last thing I wanted to read about write now was zombies wandering the ashen plain in search of human meat for food, but I am glad I did.

So far--apart from isolated violence--the book as been replete with beautiful descriptions of the plains just east of the Colorado Foothills that I made my home for a short while.

I don't understand why all post-apocalyptic tales involve society unravelling and the survivors devolving into cannibalistic violence. Wouldn't some vestiges of morale muscle memory from modern civilization also survive? Perhaps not. Perhaps this is too idealistic...and it wouldn't make a very good story if they did.

But the book has made me miss Colorado all the same. I hope to take Elise there someday. We have been skiing, but I have yet to take her to see my Boulder and I would love to take the kids hiking there, too. I want to take Elise to Zolo for margs and guac...the best on the planet.

When I went back in 2007 and 2008, Boulder was already much changed from when I left in 2000. It was becoming more like Aspen and less like the bohemian town I remembered. Zero lot-line McMansions were popping up in town. Restaurants seemed a little more pretentious. But there, still was the crips clear mountain air, the brewpubs, the hiking trails and climbing walls. Maybe I didn't have to go back to Boulder. I have started trying to think of where the next Boulder will be and going there. Maybe it is Fort Collins. Maybe it isn't--ironically enough--in Colorado at all. Maybe it could be Bellingham.

I love living in India, but there are no wide open spaces. No microbrewed IPA or breakfast burritos dripping with spicy salsa and ranchero sauce. Few trails to run on or walls to climb. We are far from snow and crisp mountain air. Though it is a long time off, I am already looking forward to the bittersweet end to our time in India. I know it will be hard to say goodbye to our weekend ritual of going to Sangeetha for dosas and filter koppi or our regular date night to some of the best restaurants Elise and I have ever been to. But the kids need to put a good trail under their tiny feet, walking sticks in hand. Maybe feel some snow on their cheeks and foreheads, then relax in front of a mug of hot chocolate by a crackling fire.

Hannas have thin Brazilian-Indian-Floridian blood, but need the cold and mountains to truly feel alive. 

Friday, January 9, 2015


Like father, like son.

Notice the double-kick in butterfly. Like a pro. 

December in India

The build-up to Christmas and the end of the year is always hard. It seems that the holidays put unexpected pressures on everyone. In India, where it takes all of our collected strength and every minute of every day just to keep the ship afloat, the holidays bring extra work and new tasks. Shopping to do. Decorations to put up. Meals to plan. When it is hard enough just to make it through the most normal and calm of days, when it takes every ounce of energy to manage the chaos of India and just get dinner on the table, the extra weight, though not unwelcome, might just be enough to tip the ship. It might just start taking on water.

We are fortunate in that our children's expectations are low.  I don't believe our childrens' expectations are low because we have disappointed them in the past, but because we have never gone overboard. We never got them a petting zoo or real-life fire truck for their birthdays nor had the Christmas elf/gremlin tear the house apart every night for 12 nights leading up to Christmas Eve (honestly, who has time for the that?? I don't have time to pick-up the messes my three kids make much less intentionally make messes that a fictitious, mischevious Christmas elf makes every night for the 12 nights leading up to Christmas and then pick those up, too! The first time I heard about this, I thought some parents must be truly insane. C'mon, people!).

As Christmas and the boys' birthdays approached, Elise became homesick.We mostly battle trying to meet our own expectations. I know Elise does. She has many fond memories of a Pacific Northwest Christmas, huddled around a fire crackling in the fireplace, snow sprinkling softly outside. I don't share the same storybook vision of Christmas that she does. I grew up in South Florida. Think, Christmas lights on a palm tree and boat parades. No snow. No hot chocolate by a crackling fire. My parents separated when I was young and we spent the first half of Christmas break with one parent and the second half with the other. We spent Christmas morning with one parent then got into the car and drove to the other parent's house to spend the rest of the day with them. I'm not complaining. I don't have bad memories of Christmas. I just don't share the same magical ones that Elise has.

This Christmas was the most Christmas-like Christmas we had in the last three years. Two years ago, we left Brazil right before Christmas and last year, we had just arrived in India. I think there is something to be said to be settled in your home for it to feel like Christmas. Sadly, I had little to do with the fact that this year felt very  much like Christmas. I had to travel to Mumbai for work for a week in the middle of December, and Elise put up all the Christmas decorations while I was gone. In fact, she did pretty much everything to make sure this Christmas was as magical for our chidlren as her's was when she was a little girl.

The Sunday before Christmas, she and Ed went on a photowalk in Georgetown. She came back later that day, saying she happened upon the most beautiful church in Chennai and wanted to go back because they were having a Christmas concert. I was in. I was hoping we would be able to go to church this year (we only go once) and this sounded perfect.

Sundar drove us to St. Andrew's Church (the Kirk) and we forced the kids to sit through a two-hour service. It was the longest church service I had ever been to. I don't know how the kids did it, but they were angelic. Sam sat next to Ed. Ed doesn't have kids. He's just not a kid person, but Sam may have won him over that night.

Christmas Eve, I had the thought to take the family out to a fancy dinner, so I made a reservation to eat at the rooftop restaurant at the Raintree hotel on St. Mary's road so that we could spy Santa and Rudolph flying over. The kids didn't really get to see Santa this year. They didn't get to sit on his lap. Christmas isn't that big of a deal here and not many of the malls had a mall center. Frankly, I wasn't sure an Indian Santa would fit the bill. Elise told me about the Indian Santa that came to Peter's school. In his defense, he probably had zero cultural context, so he just sat there unsure of what he was supposed to do, kind of like another Christmas decoration. I'm guessing it would be a lot like asking me to dress up like Ganesha and do a Hindu ritual. I wouldn't know what to do either and may just end up sulking in the corner in my hot, stuffy outfit.

Earlier in the day, the hotel called me and said that they would not be offering the usual menu, but would be serving a 6-course, prix fixe menu featuring lamb and beef tenderloin. I thought that sounded stupendous. So, "Yes! Of course we want to keep our reservation! Would it be possible to also just order noodles for the kids?"

I was assured it would not be a problem, but in my boundless enthusiasm, I overlooked the fact that, yes, it could very well be a big problem.

After an hour, we had only been served one course: roasted red peppers on bruschetta. The natives were becoming restless. The wine that came with the prix fixe tasted like swill. We upgraded. I drank draft beer and would pay for it Christmas morning. I tried my best to speed things along, but to little or no avail. After an hour and a half, the kids finally got food. We took the rest to go. Elise may have said at one point that she was having an anxiety attack. They charged me for 5 prix fixe and the noodles. So far, the most expensive meal I never got to eat. It wasn't my first and won't be my last. Such is life.

When we got home, we threw the kids in pajamas and sent them off to bed. We got to work. I chewed up carrots then spit them back out onto a plate to make it look like reindeer had eaten them. We put presents under the tree. Thankfully, I didn't have to build anything this year. I remember staying up ridiculously late one Christmas in Brazil as Elise and I put a toy push-car together. I thought it would take an hour and ended up taking three.

The next morning, surprisingly, everyone slept until six. This never happens. Peter--always the first to rise--is usual up no later than five. A Christmas miracle, indeed. Typcial mayhem ensued. I remember well the Christmases when Sam and Peter were both two--Clem's age--about mid-morning, say 10:00, they would break down, overwhelmed by everything, and start crying for no apparent reason. Unbelievably, this did not happen this year, and we were tear free until well past noon. Christmas miracle #2.

Sam is a victim of his own industriousness. He had all the legos he had gotten for Christmas fully put together before naps. We had to hide the last one, so he had something to play with in the afternoon. Elise did a wonderful thing and took each of the children shopping on their own so they could buy Christmas presents for each other. Sam bought Pete a bag of Cheetoes. Clem bought Pete two Superman action figures. They were his favorite gift and he played with them for hours, forgoing the opportuntity to keep opening more presents.

Sam's birthday is the day after Christmas. We never had time to plan a proper party. Elise picked up cupcakes at the local cupcake shop. We put a candle on top and brought out a few more presents. We dimmed the lights and sang him happy birthday. To Elise and I, it didn't seem like much of a party.

The next day, Elise and I were talking to one of our friends about planning a party later in the week or the following week and grilling out, baking a cake and getting a bounce house. Sam overheard us talking and said, "I already had my party."

That's all he had needed. One cupcake, a few candles. His family around him, singing him happy birthday. He was completely content. Peter couldn't wait to have his own party a few days later. It was much the same as Sam's. One cupcake. A candle. His family singing him happy birthday.

Only Pete got bow and arrows.

In a moment of shared insanity, Elise and I decided to buy the boys Nerf bows and arrows. The boys have been racing around the house pretending to be Hawkeye and Green Arrow. If either one of us had come up with the idea, the other might think we had truly lost our mind, but we both had the same idea independently of the other. I emailed Elise, prefacing the email by saying, "You may think I have lost my mind?" then going on to suggest the Nerf bows and arrows for the boys. She responded, saying something to the effect of, "I just put those in the Amazon cart!" We both had the same idea. Great minds and all that. In my mind, it was meant to be.

I got Clem a Nerf football so she wouldn't feel left out on the boys' birthdays, so now we have two would-be archers and halfback. 

Friday, January 2, 2015