Saturday, May 28, 2016

Firstborn Son

Wednesday night, we walked up the hill to Pete's school for his music night. It's nice that his school is right around the corner, but it is literally on the top of a steep uphill climb that had us all winded and hot by the time we got there. 

We arrived early and had a few minutes to wander the halls and see some of Pete's recent artwork. One is definitely a keeper, a painting of a cherry blossom tree. After we guided Peter to his classroom where he joined his peers prior to the performance, we found seats in the school cafeteria which had been set up as an impromptu auditorium. Pete told us to sit stage left, and as the kids filed in to take their places on the risers facing the audience, we discovered why. We were right in front of Pete's class.

The music teacher guided the classes through a few uninspired numbers. Honestly, nothing will compare to the time Pete dressed as a swan and danced to Korean hip-hop in Chennai. Though their rendition of "This Land is Your Land" was rousing and enthusiastic enough to bring a tear to my eye (which isn't saying much these days; I remember I was incredibly tired from a mostly sleepless Tueaday night and almost brought to tears by music on my earphones both coming to and going from work on the Metro).

We walked everyone back down the hill afterwards and hurried everyone through a quick dinner and showers. We've fallen into a routine--mostly out of necessity, partly out of me working nights some weeks--of only showering or bathing every other night. Usually only the sweatiness or dirtiest kid will get to shower. By the end of a long, hot day it's just one more battle neither Elise or I are willing to suit up for. 

Sometimes bedtimes can be short and sweet. Most times, it is a test of wills no gladiator or Spartan would be willing to take on. They insist their not tired in between gaping yawns. Elise insists the bedtime routine is smoother when I'm not home, that her adherence to regiment has them all in bed and asleep by 7:00. They know they're not going to get any concessions from her.

Me, on the other hand...I'm too much a softie. Elise accuses me of caving to all of their demands. No matter how ludicrous. From their beds, they whine that they are hungry, thirsty, can't sleep, and are bored. They want me to lay with them. I've gotten better. I tuck them in, sometimes say prayers, depending on how tired I am, kiss them goodnight, and get hem a sip of water. I know it sounds like a lot. But I've really cut back. 

Wednesday night, after Peter's performance and art show, where he was the center of attention for the night, Sam was feeling a little left out. I am the hardest on Sam and heap the most praise on Petey. I know I do it, and I try to treat them more equal. I believe it has a lot to do of my high expectations of Sam, a standard I don't hold Peter to, but I would never be able to explain that to them, so Wednesday night, I decided to lie in bed with Sam for a few minutes before he fell asleep. 

As he smuggled into my arms, I whispered in his ear, telling him that he would always be my firstborn son, that even if we had 12 more children, he would still be the firstborn and that made him special and it was something no one would ever be able to take away from him and something that would never change. He seemed to find great comfort in these words.

I remember my dad saying something similar to me once. I don't remember why or what the circumstances were that prompted him to tell me this, but I remember, too, finding great comfort in this sentiment. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rain Rain Go Away

Yes, it is still raining.

In fact, it rained all weekend. Pete's soccer game on Saturday was cancelled (again). We did get in some much needed down time and everyone took naps on Saturday, because--frankly--there was nothing else to do.

On Sunday, after a morning of building legos, we headed into town to meet the Looslis at the National Building Museum. The building itself is impressive (it's where they host the inaugural balls), but there aren't a lot of exhibitions, though there is a fun section with kids with building toys.

The best of the museum is that it has a enormous atrium where you can pretty much let the kids run wild which is exactly what they needed after a weekend (or month!) of being stuck inside.

Field Trip to Hard Bargain Farm

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tooth Fairy Lost

This story was actually told to me by Elise. When I get home late from closing shift, Elise and I sit on the couch and relate our evenings to one another. Her evening is usually much more interesting than mine.

I didn't expect Elise to wait up for me. She doesn't every night. Some nights I get done very late. One night this week, I didn't leave the office until 10:00 and wasn't at home and in bed until after 11:00. But some nights, I'll receive a text message from Elise in the early evening, after the kids are in bed. She's going to do yoga. On those nights, when I come home the door to her office is closed and I can smell incense. I quietly walk downstairs and change my clothes. Sometimes, I'll grab a beer. Last night, when I thought I messed up one of our principal's papers and after reading the most depressing story eve on Human of New York on pediatric cancer, I needed two. 

On the nights I'm not done too late and Elise has done yoga, we'll sit on the couch. If it's warm enough, the living room window will be open behind us. The breeze will move through the large trees around our house, and cars will pass--many times too fast--up and down our street, high school kids coming home from late practices or pizzas being delivered. I'll grab a beer, and Elise will grab a glass of wine in a small glass we saved from Brazil or India (I can't remember) that they sold tomato sauce in and Elise saved. Which is a good thing, since Peter accidentally broke our last Reidel wine glass. When he did, he immediately burst into tears. But I wasn't mad. How could I be? I'd personally broken at least four or five simply by trying to hand wash them. 

Some nights--many recently--it will be raining or the wind will be blowing more forcefully than usual. It's nice sitting with the windows open, regardless of how loud our neighbor gets sometimes at night, trucks backing up, endlessly beeping as though they were really going to back someone over or John, an ex-Marine, practicing the trumpet next door. Sitting with the windows open is something we couldn't do in India. For many reasons. Not the least of which were the stifling heat that India is again having to deal with this year or mosquitoes.

After school that day, she took the kids to the Starbucks by our house for an after school treat. Peter got a sausage and egg sandwich. He argued with his siblings who wanted a bite. He wanted the whole thing to himself. He took a bite, and Elise her him crunching on something. She initially thought it was a piece of gristle in the meat. She grabbed the bite of sausage out of his mouth with a napkin and threw it into the garbage.

Only after she did that, did she notice the small amount of blood in his mouth.

He had been chewing on his tooth.

When Elise told Peter that he lost his tooth, he burst into tears right in the middle of Starbucks. She took him to the bathroom (having to abandon Sam and Clementine. No doubt it's a felony offense to leave one's child unattended in Starbucks while you take another one of your children to the bathroom. As though they might get into the caffeinated drinks by themselves). She cleaned him up there, and he was mostly better.

Later, at the house, he would lament the loss of his tooth, again breaking down into tears. As you may recall Peter has not had his two front top teeth since Brazil. Now, he doesn't have his two front bottom teeth either. I honestly don't know how he chews anything. There's a black hole in his mouth that just sucks food and drink into its gravitational well.

He said something about not being able to defend himself (evidently, he also thinks of himself as a wolverine or other biting critter?) without teeth and his teeth being his soul. The boy feels deeply.

The tooth fairy forgot to come. We had to elaborate upon the myth by saying the tooth fairy only knows to look under pillows, so if there's no tooth (or no note), she doesn't know to leave money.
We're not being cheap! Honest. But when you establish lore, you have to follow through for the sake of consistency, lest the tale unravel.

Pete has yet to write a note, so I stay a few dollars richer in the interim. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Date Day

Many couples have date nights. When Uncle Bill and Aunt Jackie were in town, we did get to sneak away for a few hours for dinner at Hank's Oyster Bar in the city, but that was a rare occasion. 

We haven't very many date nights recently, so we've had to play catch up by having date days!

When I am on closing shift, I don't have to go into the office until 1:00 in the afternoon, so on Monday, Elise and I went for a (very slow!) three mile run, then to the grocery store. I know, it may not seem very romantic, but Elise and I haven't spent a lot of time during daylight hours without little ones nipping at our heels. Most times Elise tries to talk to me when the kids aren't sleeping, I find myself having to divide my attention between her and at least one or two kids. Now, we can have conversations about her work and collaborations without having to stop and get juice for someone or wipe a tizu!

Spring Family Fun Night

Tonight was Spring Family Fun Night at Clem's school. Unfortunately, I had the closing shift and couldn't go, but Elise sent me a few snapshots below.

The kids were encouraged to dress in farm wear. Elise knew going into it that was going to be a tall order. There was catered Chick Fil'A and--as you can see--the petting zoo was a big hit. 

Oh no....Clem and a pony.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Phantom Limb

As I mentioned in the last post, Uncle Bill and Aunt Jackie came up from Florida last weekend to visit. We really didn't do too much more than go to the zoo, per their request. A little bit of down time was much needed by all.

I left work at 2:00 after opening the office early that morning and took the Metro to the airport where I hopped off and met them just as they were dragging their suitcase off the conveyor belt. We decided to forgo DC traffic and the cost of a cab and Metroed it back to Falls Church where Elise and Clementine met us in the Kiss n Ride lot. We got to the house just in time to walk to the end of the block and meet the boys as they were getting off the bus from school.

Both Sam and Pete were excited to see them. Neither knew quite what to say, but both smiled awkwardly at the unexpected sight of them and tucked in for "back hugs" (noncommittal hugs which is about as much as you can expect from a six year-old little boy).

With us all there having disembarked from the bus, I looked around, gathering my flock to cross the street and head back to the house. I saw Pete, Sam, and Clementine. Elise had come, too, and, of course, Jackie and Bill were there, but for a split second, I paused, sensing that we were missing someone...that our party was not quiet complete. I say this not out of sentiment, but to convey a fleeting yet powerful feeling, like being jolted awake in the middle of the night by a dream your falling.

The sensation was gone as quickly as it had come. I realized I'd been looking for my mom...Nanny...but she wasn't there, which was unnatural. I would look for her again once or twice over the weekend, perhaps forgetting for a split second that she wasn't there when so clearly she should have been that it had tricked my subconscious.

But parents carry a lot of weight and parenting is just one of them. The boys are still getting used to my ever-changing work schedule, and no matter how many times I tell them at the bus stop in the morning that I am working late and won't be home until after they go to sleep or as I am tucking them in at night and tell them that I won't be there in the morning to pour their cereal or their juice, they forget (or weren't really listening in the first place) and are inevitably disappointed when I don't show up at dinner time or am already gone when they crawl out of bed in the morning.

Elise and I posited that Sam misses me more when I have to work at night and Peter misses me more when I have to work in the morning, but Peter pretty much smashed that theory to pieces when I got a text message from Elise yesterday afternoon, "Can you call and talk to Pete?"

I immediately called. Peter picked up, answering in a small voice. When I asked him about his field trip to the farm, he immediately burst into tears. Sobbing into the telephone, he wailed, "I want to sit next to you tonight!" Ouch.

It quickly became evident that Peter was not going to be able to compose himself enough to talk so Sam got on the phone and told me about that caterpillar in his classroom that was forming a chrysalis on Friday and in a few weeks would be full-grown butterfly.

I worked until after ten, way past the hour Elise stopped responding to my text messages falsely holding out hope I would be done any time soon. By the time I did get home, everyone was long asleep. Then, I, too, was no more than a phantom, made ethereal by responsibilities outside of being a parent.

I probably bear too much self-inflicted guilt for not being around more, even though I try and mostly think I am around a lot. And especially try to be present when I am home. But I wouldn't have it any other way. The day I stop feeling guilt would mean I also stopped caring as much as I do. I bear these burdens proudly and feel fortunate that so many people do depend on me. It is an honor to be trusted by them even if they don't know yet they have a choice to trust me.

The fact that they miss me as much as they do, is incredibly ironic, because when I am there they mostly ignore me, to the point I have to repeat myself three and four times to even be heard or have them acknowledge I exist. Sometimes, sadly, we are more powerful in our absence than in our presence. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Seal Whisperer

Saturday morning, we woke and downed a quick breakfast. Peter had a soccer game at 9:30 and Sam was scheduled to take the field at 10:00, but recent rains closed both fields, and the games were cancelled.

"Let's go to the zoo!"

Uncle Bill and Aunt Jackie were in town visiting, and the only thing they wanted to do while they were here (besides see Sam and Pete play soccer) was go to the zoo, so we used the early start to get a jump on the crowds. We went to the National Zoo in DC and I have to say it was the most fantastic experience we have ever had at the zoo.

Admittedly, it didn't start off so great. The first exhibit we went to was for the fancy pony then we went to the elephant, otter, and beaver. None of them were in their cages. We were feeling a little dejected. But then as were were walking from the beaver down to where the seals were (our perennial favorites), we stopped at the wolves.

I was standing next to the wolf pen not expecting to see a wolf at all, because I've never really seen a wolf in the wolf pen at the zoo. The grass is high and the exhibit is built on the side of a hill. The wolves tend to stay at the top of the hill far from people. But as I was standing there and everyone else had run or gone ahead, out of the brush, a wolf came trotting up and stared straight into my eyes. It was pretty magical and gave me goose bumps. He did this a few more times, trotted back into the brush as wolves will lope, then come back out and looked at me even though Peter and Clem were whining for me to come down the path to join them.

Eventually, I broke gaze with the wolf, and we went our separate ways. I caught up to everyone at the harbor seals who were in the middle of doing tricks and being fed fish and squid out of a bucket. Elise and I marveled at how many tricks the harbor seals knew while Sam and Peter marveled at the contents of their breakfast.

After that, we walked down to the seals. There is an underwater observation window where you can watch the seals glide by. They swim by with their eyes closed like flippered torpedoes. But the kids figured out that if you put your hand up to the glass, the seal will stop and follow your hand around. It looked as though they were training the seal and they were definitely playing together.

After we left the seals, we could have seen no other animals and it was already the best experience I had ever had at the zoo. Though we started off not seeing very many animals, after that point, not only was every animal out, they were all in rare form. We couldn't tell if it was just spring, the sunshine, or mating season. Even the alligators moved. All of them. When they usually just sit there like statues with their mouths gaping open.

At one point, I was trying to watch an alligator slither through the tall grass, orangutans balance on a high-wire high overhead, and a group of four elephants cross the savanna all at the same time and felt like I was in a scene out of The Jungle Book.

We even hit the reptile house, the large ape house and aviary to see the flamingos and peacocks (and the common raven. Not sure that exhibit will be making many memories any time soon, though!).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What's Wrong with America

When you go overseas, everyone has an opinion about the United States. Not many of them are positive. I find it ironic that everyone has something bad to say about the United States and yet at the same time may envy our country. I don't think anyone has earned the right to pass commentary on a country or a people unless you are one of them or have spent a significant amount of time walking in their shoes; I would never presume to tell a Brazilian what is wrong with Brazil or why their president is facing an impeachment trial; they know better than anyone. As I would never presume to tell an Indian what is wrong with India; again, they see the flaws of their homeland clearer than most; they are closer to it and live it daily.

Campaign seasons can be exhausting. This one, I imagine, more exhausting than most, if not the most exhausting political spectacle to ever unfold. But campaign seasons are particularly exhausting because you have to hear over and over again how crappy America is. It's demoralizing, because America is not all that bad, people. In fact, it's pretty darn great. Sadly, I think it takes going overseas and living in different lands to see it. 

There is constant conversation about how divided America is. Elise asks me often if our country has ever been this divided, if the strain is enough to rip it asunder. Lest you forget, America has been much more divided, so much so the bloodiest war in its history was fought because of its differences. Again, not until you go overseas and get out of America do you understand that liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, left-wing and right-wing, were really not all that different and we have way more in common than we don't. I know a lot of people don't see or understand that. 

When I ride the train to and from work, my fellow passengers come from all walks of life. Public transportation in DC is unique perhaps in that it attracts the middle and upper-middle classes, as well as those less fortunate due to its convenience and efficiency (bad mouth the Metro and its 40 year record of lousy maintenance all you want, I still think it works pretty well). I am always impressed by the common decency riders on the Metro show to one another. They offer their seats to the elderly and those with broken legs and everyone does their best to accommodate persons entering or exiting the train. I am sure they all have their own ideological differences based on race, gender, income, politics, or religion, but they seem to get along together well enough to stand shoulder to shoulder in a confined metal cylinder rocketing through a claustrophobic tube underground. 

There is a lot to love about America. I truly believe that collectively we mean to and can be a force for good in the world. 
Of course, the United States isn't perfect. I'll only offer one example, though I'm sure there are others. The fact that we don't offer paid maternity leave to mothers is embarrassing. There's something strongly hypocritical when we call for economically empowering women in other cultures, but fail to do so domestically. 

We've been back in the United States almost six months now. Long enough, I think, to be properly reassimilated to  American culture and moors. The one thing about America I think that really bothers Elise and I are all the unnecessary rules and laws. 

For example, it's against the law to idle your car for more than three minutes in DC. Why three minutes? Who decided four minutes was too long to sit in an idling car but that two minutes was okay?

Yesterday, we took the kids to the park. Next to the playground was a sign stuck into the grass, "Don't climb the trees." Why not? It's a park. With children. That's what kids do. They climb trees. 

In Virginia, it's a law for children under the age of 14 to wear a bicycle helmet. I completely agree that this is a good practice but does it need to be a law? Should I be arrested or fined if Sam goes out for a bike ride and forgets to put his helmet on? 

I read an article the other day that the members of a high school lacrosse team somewhere in the middle of the country were being charged with animal cruelty because they killed a guinea pig ceremoniously before a big game. Some of the players smeared the guinea pigs blood on their faces like war paint (lacrosse did evolve from a Native American game), and one boy may have even drank some of the guinea pig's blood. So that's gross. I agree that this is sick and somewhat despicable, but on the other hand they're kids. Should they have this on their record for the rest of their lives? The law specifies the animal has to be a vertebrate? Why would it have been okay if it was a snail?

I could go on but I think you get the point. I also think that no one would evernotice if  a transgender person used the restroom respective to the gender with which they self-identify. Living in a rule-based society is good, but you know what they say about too much of a good thing.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

In the Land of the Cloud Giants

It’s been raining nonstop for the last 15 days, and the wet weather is starting to take a toll on all of us. The sky hangs low in the sky, filled with towering cumulonimbus clouds that look like sentries guarding us, or overbearing parents looking down on us disapprovingly, arms crossed, perhaps. The sky has been grey for so long, I don’t know what other color it could be.

The most obvious side effect has been a bit of cabin fever exhibited by the kids. Without being able to get outside and burn off energy, they have taken to wrestling on the couch. The house—as small as it is—cannot contain them. There is no extra space, so for even a small portion of that space to be filled with chaos has the effect of throwing the entire house into turmoil.

The boys have not had soccer games or practice for the last two weeks, because of the rain. The City of Falls Church is inordinately protective of their fields and, even at the slightest drizzle, closes them. Thankfully, there was a break in the weather of width and breadth large enough to fit Peter’s soccer practice into Tuesday evening.

The inactivity has been hitting Sam the hardest. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s being eight. Or being in second grade. Or maybe my changing work schedule. Or maybe the weather, too, has been having ill effects on his psyche. Whatever it was he was particularly out of sorts Tuesday afternoon, breaking down into tears and full-on hysterical sobbing at the prospect of having to go to Pete’s practice, apoplectic that he couldn’t be left at home by himself.

His demeanor didn’t improve much once we got to the park. When he wasn’t throwing pinecones at kids on the playground and basically being a little shit, he was moping around, whining, “I don’t know what to doooooOOOOoooooooOOOOooooo!” and “I’m booooooOOOOooored!” When I did offer to kick the soccer ball around with he and Clem, he started acting as though he were Pele, kicking the ball so hard neither Clem or I could kick with him. Though he can be exceedingly sweet to the little sister of one of the kids on Pete’s soccer team—playing with her, pretending to trip and fall down to get her to laugh—he is somehow incapable of sharing the same compassion with his own little sister.

At one point, Sam kicked the ball so hard it flew through the air, sailing past Clementine’s head. She was pissed. Rightfully, so. And bent down picked the ball up and stalked away. Sam called “Hand foul!” and tackled her. I snapped, grabbed him by the arm, and began hauling him to the car. I tried not to make a scene, but Sam was being obstinate, and I quickly figured out the only way I was going to get him to the car was through physical force. Elise gave me a look, and perhaps a few choice words, and I softened my approach. To little or no avail. I did eventually get him in the car and left him there. Much to Elise’s chagrin.

I overreacted and was embarrassed by my actions. That’s happened more than once recently. I’ve been working on a kind, patient approach with the kids that’s been getting me nowhere. If I make a calm, reasoned request of one of the kids, they completely ignore me until I’ve made the same measured request three or four times, and even repetition is often useless. That’s when I lose my cool and yell. But I’m trying to understand that it doesn’t have to be one end of the spectrum or the other, and that I can be a firm disciplinarian without being an ogre. It’s not easy. I know they don’t understand that I wouldn’t get so mad if I didn’t love them so much.  

The following day, Sam had an annual fitness test at his school. According to his mother, he ran four miles in jeans, and I could tell there was something different about him. He seemed mellower. He seemed like I feel after I go running. The boys had early release yesterday and were already home when I got home from work around 3:00. Sam and I played legos while Pete and Clem watched Wild Kratts on the iPad. After a half hour or so of looking through an idea book Elise and Clem checked out of the library for him, he decided he wanted to try and build a castle. He worked on the drawbridge, while I worked on the front gate. That’s about as far as we got before it was time for me to clean the downstairs bathroom in anticipation of out of town guests: Aunt Jackie and Uncle Bill.

They arrive in a few hours, so here’s to hoping the cloud giants march back to their homes in the sky for a few days. 

Bear with a Beard

By Clementine

(ps after I texted her mother a photo of Clementine's painting on my desk to show Clem, I received a message in response, "It's upside down." I've since turned it around. I was told the red are the bear's legs.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

View from the Bench

Mother's Day

When you marry someone you pledge to stand beside one another through sickness and in health, for better or worse, richer or poorer. You vow to stay together until death do you part which can be a very long time. In that time, you will grow, mature, and change, sometimes in unexpected ways. Life will bend and notch you. Your shape may then change or dents or pocks may become apparent as a result. The changes can be dramatic. They can be so striking that you may become essentially someone very different than the person you were on your wedding day. Off the top of my head, I can think of examples of individuals that grew and took on new interests and pursuits that caused them to spend more and more time away from their husband. He could not share her new passion, could not compete with her new interests, and the things they enjoyed to do together became not all that interesting to her anymore. She changed, grew; he didn’t. Gradually, the strain was too much to bear and the tether that bound them together gave. And we can all think of instances when the challenges life presents can become too much for some to support; they then take solace in an escape: video games, the bottle, drugs, and the toll on their marriage is too damaging to justify keeping the union intact.

When you stand on the altar beside the person you love more than anything else in the world, your thoughts are very far from the future. You may imagine the future as an extrapolated projection of the present, basically the same moment you are in now, only with two people who are a little more grey and a little more wrinkled. But this is more often than not very far from what the future will truly old, just as on my wedding day, I could not have imagined at that moment my life know, working in DC, with three children, having lived in India and Brazil. I don’t think I’ve changed, but I’m sure in ways that are imperceptive to me I have. I am weathered, my edges slightly worn.

When you stand on the altar beside the person you love more than anything else in the world, regardless of how long your courtship, you cannot possibly know everything about the person you are about to commit to spending the rest of your days with. The next several years (decades, even) will be of exploration and revelation. You will continue to learn as that person grows, evolves, changes, and reveals new and exciting facets of themselves to you.

I say all this as preamble to how still, daily, I am amazed and impressed by Elise. She is growing, changing. We both are. Her, certainly, for the better. Of course, on our wedding day, I had no idea what kind of mother she would be. Of course, I knew her core traits, among them her ferocious sense of justice, of right and wrong, her creativity, her drive for perfection in all she did, and could estimate what kind of mother she might be. But kids are crazy, constantly providing equal amounts of wonder and frustration.

I knew Elise was a good cook, but somehow I did not know just how good. It still confounds me how this escaped me, but in the last few weeks, Elise has made (from scratch) steak rogan josh, Madras shrimp masala, mole (¡Mole! People!!), and grilled paella.

Elise really doesn’t like Mother’s Day. I won’t go as far as to say she hates it. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I’m pretty sure if you asked her what she thought of Mother’s Day, you’d get an answer pretty close to that. As a day to respect all that your mother does for you, it’s become perverted in much the same way Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. Elise will tell you the expectations are too great. There’s too much pressure to do something amazingly wonderful for your mother on Mother’s Day so that anything less than a crab cake benedict and mimosas on a vineyard with rolling green hills in the background and children happily giggling at your feet is a failure and ripe for disappointment.

That pretty much sums up why we had lunch at Subway on Mother’s Day.

And I don’t think Elise would have had it any other way.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Swing Shift

Last week, I was on swing shift for the first time which made for very long days and a very long week. My boss was headed to Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia on a work trip Wednesday which meant I ended up working late Monday and Tuesday nights and had to come in early on Wednesday to get him out the door and on the plane on time and fully prepared.

When I walked the boys to the bus stop Monday morning, I told them I would be home just as they were in bed falling asleep—in time to tuck them in and say goodnight. I knew before I even started the job that the swing shift was the wild card shift. I had been told that opening shift pretty much always got out on time at 2:00, and that though closing shift went until the last person was in the office or all the work was done—which is a very fluid finishing line—it never started before 1:00. Swing shift gets to leave “when the closing person is in a pretty good place”—which is incredibly subjective. Moreover, at the beginning of the week, there was a lot of work to do. I guess I should have known all this before the boys got on the bus Monday morning, but I didn’t realize just how much there would be to do to get my boss ready for his trip. I would just miss bedtime Monday night, and not even come close Tuesday night…not leaving work until 9:00, it was close to 10 by the time I walked in the door.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Clementine took a nap Monday after school, so at least she was still up when I got home. I slid onto the couch next to Elise—work clothes on—and pulled Clementine into my lap. Twice last week, Clementine asked about our old houses. Monday night she asked to hear about our old house in Brazil—the pool, the backyard, the fruit trees…lime…mango..and jabuticaba, the garden, and the churrasco. Thursday night she asked to hear about our apartment in Ballston, not a place that initially brings with it a lot of happy memories, but it’s become some a transformative, seminal chapter in our journey it’s become difficult not to think fondly of it while at the same time understanding what a difficult transition we experienced there. I told her about the neighborhood, the loud street grates, the sirens, how I would walk to work, then pause a block away to look back up to see if I could spy my family waving from the 18th story window, the construction site, Peter crawling and squealing down the hall trying to escape the apartment.

The rain has yet to stop. Though we got a brief respite yesterday—Mother’s Day. Neither of the boys had soccer practice this week, and all their games this past weekend were cancelled. But they need soccer badly. Like an addict needs crack. They are experiencing acute withdrawals, basically just beating up and wrestling with each other which no one seems yet to recognize unerringly, without fail, always results in someone getting hurt or crying. We went for a six mile bike/run yesterday (I ran three miles, while Sam and Elise, pulling the trailer with Peter and Clem in it, followed, then we traded places), and the wind in their hair for an hour or so seemed to sufficiently siphon the ennui from their systems. Mandatory naps helped, too. By dinner, a Mother’s Day treat at our favorite, within-walking-distance Indian restaurant, all were calm enough to fill their bellies with rice, butter chicken, and naan. Pete has been clamoring for Indian food, licking his plate (literally!) clean when Elise has made steak rogan josh and shrimp masala.

The good news is I only have swing shift every third week, about once a month. As someone once said, you can pretty much put up with anything for a year. Knowing this job is finite helps. I look at my fellow passengers on the Metro (now staring into the face of a year of gradual track closures) and can feel sorry for them knowing they have known or will know nothing else. For the most part, this is their lot in life. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

How Adults Talk

The Bridge

Last week, Clementine had Construction Day at her school. All the dads came in for an hour to build something with their kids. As you know, I am not very savvy with tools -- power or otherwise.

The dad has explicit instructions not to do all the construction for their kids, but to help them build. This would be no problem for me. I never took shop, and I really don't know how to work with wood, nails, and glue anyway. When Clementine decided she wanted to build a bridge, I helped her create the "structure", then she set about decorating the bridge. Soon enough, the exercise became less like construction and more like beading. Which was just fine by me.