Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pete and Sam's Climbing Birthday Party!

What Happened When the Kids Went to the Zoo

I wish I could tell you. This will be a much less interesting story, because I had to work and didn't get to go.

It was the first day of winter break, and Elise took the kids -- along with Shreyas from Clementine's class and his mother Madhuri -- to the zoo. It was the first time Shreyas had been to the zoo in DC, so needless to say, he was very excited.

According to Elise, however, Sam was a nightmare, though karma caught up with him, and he got car sick on the way home in stop 'n' go traffic and threw up all over the back seat.

I was on opening shift. I left work at two and got home around three, after stopping at the store for beer, wine, and lasagna noodles. Elise and the kids weren't home yet. I ran downstairs and pulled my running shorts on and laced up my sneakers.

Then, I stopped.

Elise has been at the zoo with the three kids all. day. long. I wonder if she will want to make lasagna when she gets home?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

Still in my running clothes, I started boiling some water for the lasagna noodles. I'll make the lasagna real quick, I thought to myself, then jump on the treadmill while the lasagna is cooking. The kids will probably want to watch TV when they get home anyway after such a long day at the zoo.

I threw the lasagna noodles into the pot one by one. The last time I made lasagna, all the noodles stuck together. Very literally. The only difference between uncooked lasagna noodles that one knows as soon as you open a box of lasagna noodles and what I had made is that mine were hot and wet. Otherwise, they all looked like they had just come out of the box in one hot, wet, hardened mass, completely unsuitable for making anything with.

I know how to make lasagna conceptually. I know how to make each constituent element to good lasagna, but -- like everything -- the devil is in the details. How does one take these individual, delicious parts and put them together into a truly magnificent whole?

I had only one place to turn. The back of the lasagna noodle box. Well two, really. Because in making the spaghetti sauce, I had to follow the instructions on the back of the spaghetti sauce spice packet. Now, my family growing up just used store-bought jarred sauce. Elise prefers if-not-exactly homemade sauce, something that more resembles it than I am used to making and begins with a jar of tomato paste.

I had noodles, sauce, and meat all cooking at the same time, and I was feeling good. Next came the cheese mixture. Eggs, ricotta, shredded Parmesan. I was on fire!

After ten minutes, I took the noodles out of the water and -- still paranoid they were going to stick together -- I quickly googled "how to keep lasagna noodles from sticking together".

The answer: laying them out individually on a dish cloth to dry. Genius!

I laid out to dish clothes on the dining room table and laid out each lasagna noodle out on their blankets like they were sun-kissed octogenarians on Miami Beach.

That's when Elise called, "Get ready to meet us at the front door in five. Clem is breaking down, and Sam just puked all over himself."

I was at the door as promised. Pete came in and commented how good the house smelled. I thanked him, though I imagine anything smelled better after being trapped in a car with throw-up fumes. I would be scrubbing the carpet in the back seat of the car and extricating and disassembling a vomit-covered car seat instead of running. Elise derived mild amusement from my supine lasagna noodles. I was embarrassed by my paranoia they would stick together. Dinner came together. It never would have if I had gone running. Sam got in the shower, and Clementine calmed down after a time-out on her bed.

Every once in awhile, an unexpected window of opportunity opens for me to go running. Usually, I take it, leaping through it nary a glance rearward. But every once in awhile, the window opens and I get a strange feeling in the back of my mind. Something's not quite right. This window, though open now, could quickly close behind me, trapping me in an alternate dimension on the other side. Sometimes, it's best to think twice before stepping through. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

This may be the first year no one is crying! :)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bus Stop Conversations

When I am on closing shift, I walk Peter and Sam to the bus stop in the morning. Sam's bus comes first, so about five to ten minutes, it's just Peter and I, waiting for his bus.

We cross to the other side of the street to catch his bus. Pete steps up onto the roots of a tree beside the sidewalk. The tree is tall, and the roots are gnarled and push up the sidewalk from beneath, cracking it in places. The footing is uneven, and he stumbles before climbing back up and asking me, "Dad...what's the biggest dragon?"

"The biggest?"


"That'd be the red dragon, wouldn't it?"

He thinks for a minute. It's cold out and he breathes his breath like fire.

I ask him, "What's the white dragon's breath weapon?"

"Ice," he answers. Then goes on to explain that it could also be bolts that freeze things and not, perhaps, a cone of continuous ice as you may be picturing.

"What's the green dragon's breath weapon?" I ask.

His brow furrows. "Green dragon?"

"Yeah...poisonous gas?"

"Oh YEAH....!" The kids have been watching new episodes of How to Train Your Dragon on Netflix. We don't have cable, so I got Roku internet, so the kids could watch cartoons. Elise talked me into subscribing to Netflix so we could watch The Chef's Table, a documentary series on different famous chefs. Perhaps not coincidentally, the kids are also now able to download and watch a basically an infinite stream of cartoons.

Elise was challenged recently to explain how we used to watch TV to the kids when they were upset they had to come to dinner before finishing the show they were watching. It was like trying to explain a rotary phone or typewriter. "You know...when I was your age...when we came home from school and turned on the TV, we just had to watch whatever was on. Even if we had to start in the middle of a show. We didn't get to start a new show every time we turned the TV on and we didn't always get to finish the show we were watching." This was TV when it was more passive, something that just ran in the background. Now, the kids can sit down and literally watch the entire season of a show in a marathon sitting if we let them.

"What's the blue dragon's breathe weapon?" I asked Petey.


"What's the black dragon's breath weapon?"


"Really?" I ask. "I thought it might be shadow or smoke. Okay...what's the red dragon's breath weapon?"

"That's easy."

"That is easy. Fire."

Pete started making flame noises just as we heard the school bus coming to a screeching stop at the street corner. I gave him a hug (none of the kids can hug front-facing, they all back into a hug or offer their side in a "side hug") and told him to be good for mom when he gets home from school. He usually is...at least, after he gets some food in his system. He routinely gets off the bus in the afternoon red-lining, flying on fumes, bonking hard. And is a nightmare until his blood sugar stabilizes.

It's a good thing he doesn't have a breath weapon then.

Crazy Elf Dance

Last weekend, was the perfect holiday weekend. The Saturday highlight was the boys' rock climbing birthday party, and the highlight Sunday was South India breakfast of dhosas, idli, vada, and upma, followed by a trip to the mall to see Santa Claus.

Santa's Village was sponsored by HGTV (wasn't even sure that was such a thing) and had various activities for the kids that helped the time waiting in line go by faster. The kids stood on a thing that looked like a teleporter pad from Star Trek while a machine scanned them to see if they had been naughty or nice. Then, we made a crazy elf dance video:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Anatomy of a Decision

I think to live a nomadic existence is rather unique. I don't think many people wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night wondering where they will move to, that movement is such an inevitability. After six years, movement is comfortable, and the lack of movement, to be still, has become disquieting. For Elise and I -- and I can imagine for our kids, as well, as it is the only existence they have ever known -- the act of remaining in place is an uncomfortable one. It's the same feeling you have when you first step off a treadmill or come off a roller rink; you feel like you are still moving, still plummeting or tumbling forward through space, only you're not going anywhere. Some people abhor change. Some thrive on it. 

I moved as a kid, too. I may have told the story here before, but, briefly, my mom took my brothers and I on vacation to Houston when I was in fifth grade. At least, I thought we were going on vacation. Maybe we were. I'm not sure what my mom knew at the time. Whether or not she knew we weren't going back or not. But we didn't. We stayed with my grandparents in a small town, Manvel, outside Houston's beltway for the entirety of fifth grade. 

Elise and I are cognizant of the effects a life on the run may have on the kids. We read a lot and talk to people. When I worked in American Citizen Services in India, the overwhelming majority of American citizens I met were minors. Their parents had been computer engineers, working for companies like TCS, Intel, and Accenture when they were assigned to positions in the United States. Many of them moved several times, back and forth across the Continental U.S., in much the same way Elise and I and the kids criss-cross the globe. When I met them to renew their passports, I liked to ask the older ones how they coped with the frequent moves and what did their parents do well -- or not so well -- to prepare them for the frequent moves. Without fail, they all told me their parents talked to them about their moves, so there were no surprises. So we talk to the kids about our upcoming move and about bidding, even if we don't know where we're going yet. 

Going to visit your grandparents for vacation, but not going back is the antithesis of communicating a move to a child. I don't fault my mother for this; I have no idea really what was going on or what she had to deal with. I remember her telling my brothers and I on the same trip that she and my father were getting a divorce, so I can only imagine she was either doing the best just to keep her head above water or doing what she thought was best for us. Either is forgivable. 

That move was jarring, as was the move back to Florida a year later. It is still nothing like what we ask the kids to do. Yet, they seem well-adjusted and well-suited to it. We hope we are instilling in them a sense of adventure and helping them to cultivate life skills they may not otherwise acquire. Everyone in my line of work either explains or justifies the constant moves frequently, as though it is something that we need to apologize for. I think many people appreciate that we are giving them a global perspective, while others may feel we are depriving them of an "All-American" upbringing. 

There are trade-offs to be sure. There is a spectrum of one's tolerance for movement and change. On one end, you have those who live their entire lives in their home town, perhaps never leaving to ply their trade or test their mettle in the big city. They have lots of friends and know all the bartenders. They have large family gatherings on Sunday afternoons. And on the other end, is us. 

This past summer, we bid on our next assignment, but as had happened the last time we bid, the day assignments were announced came and went, and we were left empty-handed. 

Our first two postings were directed. We were told where to go. I remember back then looking forward to the day when we would get to choose for ourselves where we would go. Now that we do get to choose for ourselves where we go, I look back longingly, missing the days when we were just told where to go. I underestimated how hard it would be to pull the trigger on your own fate. And when you are told where to go, you have no other choice but to make the best of it. When you have some culpability in the decision, you have to take personal responsibility for your own happiness. Arguably, you have to take personal responsibility for your own happiness whether you have someone else to blame or not. 

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and as weeks passed and we still hadn't received news on a possible assignment, I played over and over again what I had done wrong. 

When we bid from India in January, 2015, there were only 30 jobs on our list. I bid on four of those. When I didn't receive an assignment, I went back to the list. A former colleague from Chennai was in the position I hold now in Washington, so I reached out to him, and the rest...as they also say...is history. We had a job lined up about a week later. 

8 weeks have passed since "Handshake Day". Almost two months. 

This time around, we deliberately moved from winter cycle to summer cycle, making hundreds of jobs potentially available to us. But I didn't believe on pursuing any job I wasn't really interested in or on any post I didn't think would be the perfect fit for our family, and bid on only five, including going back to Brasilia. As bidding season wore on, I was told -- one job after the other -- I wasn't competitive for the positions I was seeking. This was a jagged pill to swallow. An interview with Taipei, our number one choice, was encouraging in that it opened up the real possibility of an additional position other than the one I bid on. Unfortunately, it wouldn't become available until much later in the winter. Did I hold out for it, taking the risk of potentially missing out on another job? 

The job I have now is highly-coveted, because it is supposed to lead to a good onward assignment, but as bid season wore on, I quickly learned -- for a number of reasons -- that was not going to be case in my situation. Eventually the assignments officer did approach me, offering jobs in Papua New Guinea, Shenyang, Wuhan, and Chengdu. Papua New Guinea doesn't have a school. Shenyang, Wuhan, and Chengdu have emphysema-inducing smog. At the very end of bid season, he offered us Manila. I initially said no, then two hours later, reconsidered. The damage had been done. Though I interviewed for the job, it went to someone else. 

Desperate, I broke my own rule and bid on Zimbabwe, I got the job, but turned it down. Maybe the Dark Continent would be in our future some day, but today wasn't going to be that day. 

Early on in the process, I told Elise as we were looking at the bid list, "You know...we probably haven't even seen or considered where we're going to end up." As the weeks pass, this becomes increasingly likely. 

And yet, we keep a positive outlook. Everyone tells us good jobs pop up late in the bidding season. Nearly daily, a new job will pop up: Paris, Minsk, Mexico City. And nearly daily, I report back to Elise these new developments. Now, she just covers her ears and says to me, "Just tell me when it's over. Just tell me where we're going." 

Someday soon, I may text her, "Got the offer to _________________."

And we'll pull the suitcases down from the attic. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Flag Day: Part Four

Amman, Jordan!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


All the leaves that are going to fall have fallen. With a forecast low of 14 degrees tomorrow and snow in the cards for next week, fall is over and winter is here.

The Christmas lights are going up around the neighborhood, and at the request of our landlady, I shut off the outside water spigots to avoid freezing pipes, an exercise I am wholly unfamiliar with. Two Saturdays ago, Elise and I (with only passing help from the kids) stood beneath a cloudy, winter sky, wrestling with tangles of knotted Christmas lights we had dredged from boxes in the basement unopened since India. I wanted to climb a ladder and mount them on the eaves, but Elise would have none of it, so we ended up wrapping one bush in front of our house in holiday cheer. The bush on the other side of the front door remains bare, so we have asymmetrical Christmas lights adorning the front of our house. Clark Griswold would be so disappointed in us.

Later the same day, we drove half a block and bought a live Christmas tree--the first live tree we have had in at least three years--out of a Staples parking lot. Elise had grand visions of driving the family out into the woods or to a tree farm in the snow, hacking down our own tree out of the forest with a hatchet, tying it to the top of our car, and driving back to civilization. Meanwhile, I was eyeing the two perfectly good artificial trees we had stored in the basement. I quickly caved, however, realizing this may be the last opportunity we have to buy a live Christmas tree for some time.

The boys are getting excited for their joint birthday party this weekend at Earth Treks, a rock-climbing gym, Peter's choice. Both complained that they had always had a "family party" and this year wanted a "friend party". Elise and I were happy to oblige, but first have to make it through another week of closing shifts, though every day closer to the holidays makes the office incrementally quieter in the evenings.

I spoke to my mom just for a few minutes this evening, following her most recent surgery. She was watching basketball, so that--in and of itself--is a sign of recovery. Sometimes, it is difficult to focus at work with so much going on at home, with my mom being sick, and with bidding on our next assignment (the gift that keeps on giving...though I have had two interviews this week and am cautiously optimistic an end may be in sight). Now, Sam, too, is at home with a fever.

But the Transition Team has raised its head with full fury and--if nothing else--the frenzy of urgent taskings forces me to focus on work and makes the days and evenings go by faster. Winter, too, like fall, will be gone before we know it. Winter in Northern Virginia, though cold, is shy with its merits, needlessly diffident. It has more to give than is often readily apparent. And it takes an especially positive perspective to peer through the cold, dreary grey at the wonders that may lie beneath.

Clementine turned her back to me this morning just as we were getting ready to walk out to the car so I could drive her to school. "Look," she says, "My backpack is half-zipped up and half-zipped open."

"Like, 'Is the glass half-full or half empty'," I said.

"Yeah!"I'm looking forward to greeting this winter with my backpack half-zipped up.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Letters to Santa

I found this note slipped into the side pocket of my work bag. It was in a homemade envelope made from a plain white 8 1/2 x 11 piece of typing paper, held together with scotch tape. I didn't even know he had slipped it in my bag to mail!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jayalalithaa 1948 - 2016

Many will say 2016 was a brutal year, a year in which many beloved figures were lost. Prince, David Bowie, Fidel Castro (maybe not so beloved by many), Leonard Cohen, the King of Thailand, Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, the guy who crawled into a metal cylinder and rocked back and forth as he 'played' R2-D2, Justice Scalia, Janet Reno, Nancy Reagan, Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Snape in the movies, and, last but certainly not least, Mohammed Ali.

All great lives. Some more influential than others. Arguably, Castro had a greater impact on people's lives than Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer did. Everyone feels the loss differently. Elise was upset when Prince passed away. My mom, when Jose Fernandez.

I tend not to get too upset when celebrities pass. I didn't really know them and few have had a large impact on my life. I'm sad for the loss of others. I worry about what can happen to communities when loved ones are lost. Especially communities I care about.

We commemorated Oscar Niemeyer's passing in 2012 on the blog, because his architecture was such a defining, if unconscious, feature of our time in Brazil. Similarly, not a day...a minute, really, went by in Chennai when we did not see Jayalalithaa's face. She was, very literally, omnipresent. Her cult of personality was all-encompassing, her picture was everywhere, on every billboard, road barricade, backpack and water bottle. She was Tamil Nadu's most beloved leader, and I know many are upset, distraught, genuinely worried, confused, and fearful since her passing.

Regardless of your political leaning, this is a huge loss for Tamil Nadu.

When we heard of her heart attack, we worried, and feared for those we knew and cared about, co-workers, colleagues, and friends, those who loved her. When she passed, I knew it would be hard for Chennai. But I know India to be a resilient place, and Indians to be a resilient people. There will be mourning, people setting themselves on fire and flinging themselves onto the hoods of automobiles in spasmodic orgies of grief.

I remember going outside the wall surrounding our office building when she was acquited of corruption charges and released from house arrest. She toured the city in her Amma-mobile, in a victory parade, past throngs of followers in all-white garb, waving palm fronds and beating on drums. I stood with my Indian co-workers hoping to get a glimpse. It was a moment of South Indian history.

Goodbye, Amma.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Are You My Uber?"

Last night, it started raining as Clementine was getting out of the shower. Elise offered to whisk everyone into the clothes in their pajamas and come pick me up at the Metro station.

"How will we know which one is Daddy?" Someone asked.

"He's the one wearing a black suit," responded Peter helpfully.

"Everyone is wearing a black suit," Elise gently reminded him.

"He's the one with grey hair," Peter added, nonplussed.

"Everyone has grey hair."

"He's the nice one."

Thanks, Petey. :)

"How can you tell just by looking someone if they're nice?" Elise asked.

Peter thought about that for a moment, then said, "He's the one who walks like one of those giant hamster things."

"Giant hamster? You mean a capybara? Like in Brazil?"

"Yeah...he walks like a capybara."

Gee, thanks, Petey. 

Whenever I approach the car when they pick me up from the Metro, I ask, "Are you my Uber?" Because people all over the city walk up to random cars wondering if it's their Uber ride. Unlike taxi cabs, Uber cars are mostly unmarked. Some may have tiny window stickers with Uber's 'U' logo on it, but mostly just about any kind of car could or could not be an Uber.

When we got home, it was straight to the shower for Sam who had yet to take one, and straight to bed for Peter and Clementine who then proceeded to have simultaneous meltdowns, exhaustion setting in.

Clementine was complaining of an imaginary ache in her ankle. Sometimes, I use 'magic' lotion on her imaginary aches and pains. Elise offered an especially healing-smelling, lemon verbena-scented roll-on antiperspirant. I rubbed it on Clementine's ankle, whereupon she added mild complaints on the thigh and behind the knee of her other leg.

Peter told me he was "having bad thoughts."

I put my thumb between his eyebrows, then pressed lightly on his forehead. "This is your pre-frontal cortex," I told him. "It's where the good thoughts are stored: going to the beach, playing in the ocean, building sand forts, eating ice cream, watching cartoons, trading Pokemon cards, playing soccer. When you apply pressure to the pre-frontal cortex, it releases the good thoughts into the rest of the brain."

I rubbed my thumb from his forehead to his hairline, spreading the good thoughts around. "There. Now all the good thoughts are in your head. Better?"

He nodded and closed his eyes and went to sleep. 

The Old Lady Who Ate a Bat

Here, she is eating a wizard. According to Peter, she also ate a goblin and an owl, "So what do you think about that!"

Yeah, ""WOW!" is right!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Great Falls

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fall, Part Six

It's been a fall like none I have ever experienced. I don't remember feeling as happy and full of optimism and as sad and disappointed as I have this fall.

It's the day before Thanksgiving. The office is quiet, but someone needs to keep the light on. That someone is me. The kids are at home, and Nanny has arrived for the holiday. A Southwest flight from a palm-lined runway in Ft. Lauderdale disgorged her out onto Terminal A and 15 waiting wheelchairs lined up to take silver-haired relatives to baggage carousels and taxi cabs. Elise texts me often to tell me that she has a headache. I am hopeful, however, that I will get to leave soon. Leaving the office early will still mean going home in the dark, unfortunately, the wind and the cold.

It's been a long, stressful couple of weeks. Through the golden light glowing in halos around the auburn crowns of tress with falling leaves, the kids play seemingly oblivious to everything that's going on around them. I am happy for that. Maybe they see all, and I am just focusing on the wrong things. Again, a matter of perspective.

In as short a span of time as a few days, I sat on the sidelines of Sam's game in the Arlington fall tournament. It was the first game Sunday morning. The temperatures had plummeted the day before in a powerful, awe-inspiring display of the raw power of nature. The skies -- clear that morning -- had become mottled over the course of the afternoon until bloated by blotchy black clouds, releasing a bitingly cold wind that -- in the span of two minutes -- vanquished every leaf left in the trees of Virginia. The kids on the field couldn't concentrate on soccer, and every player on each of the four fields turned their heads and palms heavenward and whirled in the swirl of leaves.

Pete, Clem, Elise, and I were wrapped in a blanket on the sidelines, attempting in vain to ward off the wind. After staying a tie game for most of the morning, one of Sam's teammates scored on a breakaway and I pumped my fist into the air and whooped in excitement...his team gave high-fives.

This morning, Pete opened the door to our room and crawled into our bed. Clementine followed soon thereafter. After what happened in Chattanooga, all I have wanted to do is hold them close, but they are like unstable molecules created in a physics lab; The amount of time they exist in a state for hugging is fragile and measured in nanoseconds by sophisticated atomic timepieces. My co-worker insists on working with CNN on in the background, and I have to leave the room frequently. I can't bear to watch without fearing I'll burst into tears. I can't help seeing the footage and not imagining Peter or Sam on that bus.

I read the following this morning, a quote by Damian Kulash, the lead singer of OK Go.

"Humans are not equipped to understand our own temporariness; it will never stop being deeply beautiful, deeply confusing, and deeply sad that our lives and our world are so fleeting. We have only these few moments. Luckily, among them there are a few that really matter, and it's our job to find them."

There have been many such moments this fall. I only hope I found all of them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fall Soccer Tournament

We pretty much spend the entire weekend as a soccer mom and soccer dad, supporting Sam from the sidelines as he played in the Arlington league fall tournament.

The back story on the Rescuers, Sam's team, is that they had to make their way through a very strong Arlington travel team and a combined recreational team that also gave them a run for their money just to make it to a championship game against yet another travel side. Coach Tate watched their opponent in the final beat their Sunday morning team 7-0 while the Rescuers were struggling against the Rec team and he was already preparing for how to deal with a lopsided game. But the Rescuers played with passion and teamwork and grit against a group of boys that were collectively much more talented, but not nearly as committed as Sam's team.

After going 3-0 in tournament play, in the championship game, the Rescuers managed to find themselves up 2-0 in the middle of the second half with their Defense First strategy. A first goal by the other team was almost just a matter of time, but the Rescuers didn't even blink.

Coach Tate wrote in an email to the parents, "To be honest I felt like the momentum immediately swung our way after that goal instead of the way it often goes when you lose the clean sheet."

And the Rescuers actually had two horrible offsides calls against them on two separate breakaways that surely would have resulted in a 3-1 final score. Unfortunately, the referee just didn't understand that if two of our players are completely behind their defense, there is no offsides. But the referee is absolutely part of the game just like a lumpy field and the game went on. As fate would have it, an amazing corner kick combination with 90 seconds to go equalized and the game went into overtime.

In overtime, both Joshua, the Rescuers goalkeeper, and the other keeper had amazing save after amazing save to keep the score 2-2, and Coach Tate took the blame for not shifting strategy to an all or nothing press to offense in the second five minute overtime.

In the end, the Rescuers lost on penalty kicks, but won the hearts of the parent and the respect of the tournament officials and the Arlington travel sides they faced.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Family Museum

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Day After

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fall, Part Five

Last weekend, we had the most perfect two days of fall. Until they weren't.

Sunday afternoon, Elise had a family shoot at Burke Lake Park. Elise usually goes to the shoots by herself, but this was one twenty minute mini-session. It was a beautiful fall day. Sunny, blue skies, so we decided to join her and play at the playground while she worked. Afterwards, we might ride the carousel or toy train, then stop at Open Road on the way home for burgers, beers, and football on the big screens.

We dropped Elise off at the boat ramp to meet her clients while I strolled across the frisbee golf course, autumn leaves falling around us, with the kids. When we got to the playground the kids sprinted for the jungle gym and I found a spot on a bench in the sun. My legs were wobbly from a long run early that morning, and I might have even thought about closing my eyes for a minute if I thought I could get away with it.

Not a minute later, Peter comes running toward me, screaming and clutching the side of his head. His hand is covered in blood. I pry his arm away from his head, but I have no idea what I am looking at. All I see is blood. I tell Sam and Clem to follow me, then guide Peter toward the men's room. He doesn't seem to be in too much pain, but as soon as he sees the blood on his hand he freaks out, "I don't wanna die!" he squeals, much to my horror.

It takes us a minute to find the bathroom. The whole time we're walking, all I can focus on is this giant orb of blood hanging off his ear, and me wishing for it not to fall and stain his sweatshirt before I can get it off him. It stays there, defying physics, unmoving. I can't believe it.

When we get to the bathroom, I take his sweatshirt off and ask Sam to hold it. He is pale and looks like he's about to pass out. In a few minutes, he will ask me if he and Clem can wait outside to which I will acquiesce. In the meantime, I look for something to sop up all the blood with, but there are no paper towels. Only toilet paper. So I wind toilet paper around my hand and carefully start dabbing at his ear, still not sure what I'm dealing with.

Pete's hair is long. The kids have very little control over anything in their lives. Most nights they don't have control what we have for dinner. They don't have control over their bedtimes or when they get to watch TV. We move frequently. We've moved no less than five times in the last six years and anticipate another move within the next year. And they have no control over where we move to. Even Elise or I have little control over that. But we do try to give them control over little things. Like their hair. We don't make them cut it, and let them decide when they need a haircut. It may be the only thing they do get to control these days.

I was cursing Pete's long hair and rethinking giving him control over this decision as I combed through his blond locks now matted with blood. I pulled back fistfuls of hair, trying to see a wound past the blood. I finally mopped up enough of the blood with soggy pink toilet paper (Peter hyperventilating the entire time) to see that he had a gash on the back of his ear. It didn't look bad, and I attributed all the blood to it being his ear and not the side of his head where I was initially looking.

Several men came into the bath room to pee and wash their hands. Two of them offered first aid kits out of their car. I thought we had our own so I declined, and once I got the bleeding to stop which mercifully it eventually did, I gave Peter a piggyback ride back to the car to wait for Elise to finish her shoot.

Pete would be fine. The kids rarely -- if ever -- get hurt. So when it does happen it is almost surreal. Even more so on such a beautiful day.


By Clementine.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall Soccer, Part Two

Post-game antics. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fall, Part Four

The ten minutes in the morning as Sam, Pete, and I wait for the bus is perhaps the only truly uninterrupted block of time where I have their complete and undivided attention. This is less a commentary on our busy our lives are or how my work schedule overlaps with key moments in their day, either getting ready for school in the morning or getting everyone ready for bed in the evening, running them through baths or showers, brushing teeth, getting them into bed. When we are at home there are a lot of natural distractions; They'd much rather play legos or Pokemon than listen to me. I can't really blame them. They're kids after all, and though they seemingly wither like houseplants deprived of the sun when I am not around, when I am around, I am a suggestion, and yet they seemingly derive comfort from my mere presence.

A few mornings ago, we talked about volcanoes. This morning, I explained to them how the NFL was organized and how CenturyLink Field -- the home of the Seattle Seahawks -- was the loudest stadium in the league. I told them about 'home field advantage' and the '12th man'. Sam was tickled.

"It's because they're used to the cheering, right?"

"No! It's because the fans are on the same side as the Seahawks and get quiet when they have the ball, but then get really loud when the other team has the ball so they can't hear each other on the field."

"Oh, yeah!" Sam suppressed a giggle behind a closed fist.

I told the boys this morning that fall was my favorite season. Pete agreed. Sam likes spring. We all like the cooler weather. There are not a lot of different ways to walk from our house to the bus stop at the end of our street. It's pretty much a straight shot, but yesterday morning, I walked them a block down a side street to look at some especially beautiful fall leaves.

I feel it important to point out these things to them, like especially beautiful trees. When they were babies, I pointed out to them the moon, airplanes, helicopters, mountains, snow, jeeps, the ocean. I guess I never stopped. I once read that what makes a photograph memorable is not the physical photograph itself but the mental decision to take the photograph, that what you are looking at is worth cataloging or capturing for posterity. Likewise, maybe they will remember these things that I think it is important for them to remember because I take the time to stop and point them out to them. Maybe they won't remember the fall leaves, but will remember their father making them walk the wrong way to the bus stop to look at the fall leaves.

Fall -- like spring -- is a season of transition. It is a season that ends summer and ushers in winter. Summer dies in fall, and fall is a season of decay. Leaves loose their verdant greens. In the throes of death they scream brilliant colors before wrinkling and dying. I can imagine an earlier time when there were just animals and early, native civilizations thinking the world was ending. If you didn't know that after winter, spring would come and warm the earth, you could imagine fearing the world was slowly dying.

Many seem to still think the world is ending. The climate surrounding the current election has many thinking that regardless who wins, the world will end. In this day and age, in order to be heard, one has to scream, and there a lot of people screaming. You have to ratchet up the rhetoric and paint things in cataclysmic terms in order to illicit a response. To them, I say relax. The world is not ending. Winter is coming, but it is not the end. Spring will come, too.

The morning was blustery and crisp. When we got to the corner, wind was whoosing leaves out of the trees. They were falling like rain, and Peter and Clementine held their arms above their heads, wheeling amidst them, completely carefree.

I envied their obliviousness.

The election isn't the only thing making Elise and I nervous.

We are supposed to know where we are going by now. The key words here are 'supposed to'. As you can probably guess by now, we don't. Many of our friends and colleagues learned of their next jobs. We were supposed to find out on Monday, October 31 . Halloween. How apropos.

But, alas, Halloween came and went, and no email sending us off to some far-flung corner of the globe arrived in my inbox. I could bore you with the countless details and a thousand reasons why we haven't heard anything yet, but I won't. None of that is really all that important anyway, and when we do finally learn what the next two to three years holds for us, none of us will remember the daily ups and downs that came before the big reveal.

But there have been daily ups and downs.

Yesterday, the microwave at my office was broken, so I had to eat my dinner cold. I have an app on my phone that tells me when the next train is arriving. When I left my office building at a quarter after nine, the app told me the next Orange Line train would be at Foggy Bottom in ten minutes, so I ran the 1/2 mile to the train station only to discover the next train wasn't coming for another fifteen minutes. I ended up sweating like a pig with nothing to show for it. When I got home, I stubbed my toe on the basement stairs. We were out of beer.

But today, I called Apple iTunes service and was able to -- not only get a refund on two movies I had rented that never downloaded -- but also receive two more rentals free. When I got to work, someone from Venice, Florida called me to tell me I won a coupon for an all-expense paid trip for two to South Africa.

Ups and downs.

I interviewed for a job in the Philippines I would not get. We're back to the drawing board. There is something strangely liberating about going back to square one. I remember feeling the same thing when we hadn't received an assignment bidding out of India. The whole world is our oyster again.

For now, I try to focus on enjoying the fall, because this time next year, there may be no fall where we are. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sam's School Halloween Party

Being wrapped up like a mummy. 

Happy Halloween!

Harry Potter, a dragon, and a rainbow fairie!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fall, Part Three

Fall has definitely descended upon Northern Virginia. I spent three mornings last week raking leaves and placing them in yard waste bags only to find out that our city offers a free leaf removal service. Each bag requires a $1 yellow sticker in order to be picked up the garbage man, but if you rake all your leaves to the curb a giant vacuum cleaner hose on the back of a flat-bed truck will come by and suck up all the leaves like a mechanical anteater.

On Saturday afternoon, Pete's team had another soccer game. He scored the week before last on a hail-Mary, slow-roller from midfield, his first goal of the season (and his life!). The park where Pete plays has three fields, and the wind had blown all the leaves from two of the fields onto the third, the field Pete's team would take. Before the game, all the players were throwing leaves at each other. No one was interested in soccer, and the coach looked on helplessly. When they finally did kick-off, every play was made through the shuffle of several inches of dry leaves.

Concurrently, on the other side of town, Sam was playing in a hotly-contested game against the best team in the league. It was a one goal game for most of the second half, but the outcome would leave many of Sam's teammates in tears by the final whistle. Elise drove Sam to his game in Arlington while I rode Pete and Clem in the bike trailer to his game. When Mom joined us and offered everyone rides home, Clementine stuck by her dad. She thought we could beat them home because we beat them out of the parking lot and she cheered for me the whole way home down the bike trail, "Go, Daddy, go!"

Pokemon has overtaken our home. Not the Pokemon Go! fad that has people wandering around aimlessly through parking lots and open fields with their cellphones pointed out in front of them, looking even more zombie-like than most people normally do staring at their cellphones, but the actual Pokemon card game. The boys especially have become possessed with trading cards. Elise asks me if this is normal, but I have nothing to equate it to. I can only imagine that boys growing up in the 1940s and '50s similarly obsessed over baseball cards.

Peter last night, standing naked in the hallway before he gets into the shower: "Dad, can I tell you something: Rhyachu is the evolover of Pikachu."


Mostly, they play quietly, but like any heated negotiation, tempers flare, and a mediator is occasionally needed.

For five minutes on Saturday afternoon, everyone was reading quietly when the doorbell rang. It was our across-the-street neighbor. I was introduced to him once when we first looked at the house we're renting now. He's balding, but what is left of his frizzy hair stands off his scalp like Gabe Kotter or someone who has stuck their finger in an electrical outlet. He always wears a white wife-beater when he is outside mowing the grass or walking back and forth between the house he is moving out of and the house he is moving into two doors down. According to Elise--who calls him "Babyface" because of his unnaturally milky, baby-like skin--he is going through a divorce after 26 years of marriage, but only moving two houses away. He is extremely nice, and whenever I run into him going to or coming home from work he asks me questions about my job; I'm sure he thinks I'm a spy.

He is having to clean out the basement of his ex-wife's house. When the doorbell rang, he wanted me to come look at an air hockey table he needed to get rid of. Much to Elise's chagrin, I ended up bringing the air hockey table home, having to take the legs of with an allen wrench in order to get it down to the basement. For the rest pf Saturday afternoon, Elise tried to relax with a book while the constant smack of an air hockey puck rattled downstairs.

On Sunday afternoon, we accompanied Elise to her photo shoot in the National Arboretum. The kids and I had never been, but I'm glad we went. Sam and Peter wrestled in the shadows of the Corinthian columns from the Capitol while Clementine explored the rim of the reflecting pool. It was a beautiful October afternoon, perfectly-blue sky, long shadows, and the inaudible sounds of a Redskins game you just knew in your bones was on half the television sets in town though you couldn't see it or hear it and wouldn't know the final score until tomorrow morning.

It has been tense in the house since we started bidding on our next assignment. The process hasn't gone as well as we had hoped, and after six weeks, we feel we are no closer to knowing where we will go next than when we started.

I told Elise that the place we end up will be somewhere we hadn't thought of or considered when we started, half-joking. It's no longer a joke. We've been up and we've been down, but in the final week, the world as our oyster is more true now than at any other time in the process. Before my interview yesterday, I received a text message from Elise: "Ok. Good luck, hew. We can do it, no matter what."

She's right, you know.

Stayed tuned....

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fall, Part Two

This is our first fall in three years and may be our last for three more as we are currently bidding on our next assignment which may take us back overseas.

Fall is my favorite season so I am drinking in every minute of it, because it may be the only fall I get for six years.

I make mental lists of all the things I want to make sure we do while we are in the States. Running, camping, hiking, rock-climbing, and drinking good beer (and eating good Mexican food and burgers). That about says it all.

We took advantage of a rare weekend of no soccer games for a family hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Even Clementine made the 3.3 miles (and elevation gain equivalent to 13 flights of stairs...according to Elise's iPhone) like an old pro. 

Elise and I rewarded ourselves with a wine tasting at the Sugarloaf Winery nearby before driving back in to town, blissfully sipping on pinot gris as the kids ate oyster crackers politely supplied by the bartender and rolled in the grass.