Friday, April 28, 2017

The Land Where the Rain Never Stops

Rain fell steadily Saturday morning. As Elise zipped to her 8:30 Zengo class, I led the troops through their weekly chores: vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, swiffering, and sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor. Initially reluctant, the kids no longer protest when I announce we have to do the weekly chores. Elise had told me chores give a child a sense of purpose and, in feeling useful, personal worth and security. This seemed to me counter-intuitive. How could doing manual labor make a child happier? How could this routine be more likely to bring harmony to the home than the path I usually guide them down on Saturday mornings of pancakes and cartoons??

As usual, Elise was right, and Saturday mornings are now -- if only slightly -- less chaotic than they had been. The long weeks had made kids fighting exhaustion -- both mentally and physically -- by Friday night. Sam frequently completely melted down upon returning from school Friday afternoons. Now, he has soccer practice Friday evenings, so instead of burrowing himself in the corner of his bed, hiding behind a veil of angst and tears, he's running drills around cones in the grass with the wind in his hair.

That afternoon, Elise and I found ourselves sitting in the living room before she and Sam were to make a run to Target, the rain continuing to fall outside, audible through the open windows, the wind fluttering the curtains there. The rain makes everything greener, and when stuck inside as we are, it can often feel like we are in a terrarium surrounded by moss-covered rocks. Not an entirely unpleasant experience, if we have to be stuck inside.

It's hard to find times to talk. Even in the least busy of moments, the kids have an uncanny knack of lining their head directly in my line of sight of Elise. Though I can still hear her, it makes having an actual conversation difficult. We find even less time to talk about my mom, not wanting the kids to hear too much. We haven't told them much about my mom, but I know they hear more than they let on, and even as careful as Elise and I are to keep our conversations quiet, there are inevitably times we talk when a kid is lurking around a corner.

Elise is the one who often broaches the subject. I am wont to avoid it if at all possible. "Any news out of Florida?" is how she often brings it up.

The conversations are filled with terms I don't understand, acronyms I don't know. Last night when I got home from work, the house was empty and I cracked open a beer and started making dinner, an endeavor which should have brought calm. But I found loud noises and bright lights intolerable. The second time something like this has ever happened to me. The first was a month or two ago when on an otherwise quiet Saturday afternoon filled with folding laundry, I started seeing spots. Elise chalked it up to stress and told me to lie down. I demurred. I had to much to do, I told her. She insisted, so I laid on top of the covers on our bed for twenty minutes, and it helped. The spots were gone. I don't get stressed out generally. So, when I start to see spots or can't deal with the sound of pots banging together I don't identify it for what it is and often ignore it for what it is.

We talked for a few minutes. Pete and Clementine played in their room. Peter was making a cruise ship out of legos. Sam worked at his desk downstairs, disassembling a coffee grinder we bought at the consignment store for two dollars for no other reason than for him to take it apart and see how it worked. They drifted in and out of the room, like random particles, atoms floating through the cosmos or motes of dust in the ray of sunshine that was noticeably absent.

"I love your mother," Elise told me. Her eyes welled up. "She gave me the best gift ever."

I can't stand to see Elise cry. Can any husband watch their wife cry and not be moved? Or to hear that you are more precious than a diamond engagement ring or a new iteration of an iPhone?

Last night, after dinner, I made the conscious decision to leave the dirty dishes in the sink, the dirty pots on the stove, and the school lunches unmade. I helped everyone into their pajamas (forgetting to put a pull-up on Clem. No worries, though...she made it through the night without an accident!). I laid on the floor of their room and read to them from "Where the Sidewalk Ends".

The rain did eventually stop. But not before taking most of the pink flower petals from our dogwood. Now, it looks like it rained flowers.

We'll take that. 

Trip to South Carolina

The water was very cold. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

South of the Border

During our recent hiatus from the blog, one of the things we did was take a quick two-day trip down to South Carolina to see Elise's grandmother. Armed with books-on-tape, we dusted off the iPad, piled into the car and headed down after a 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning wake-up call.

One of the indisputable highlights of the trip was a quick stop at South of the Border on the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Neither Elise or I had ever been, though -- between the two of us -- we must have passed at least a dozen or more times. Our road trips now call for many stops. We're not going to set any land-speed records. When we sat down for breakfast in McDonald's Saturday morning (as opposed to taking our food in bags to-go), Elise gave me a disapproving glare. "We never would have sat down to eat," she told me. Sam had ordered flapjacks. Not staying and sitting down had never crossed my mind. And with five bladders of varying sizes all on different release cycles, frequent rest stops are a must. We run the kids through mandatory rest area calisthenics at each one, coaching them through laps of the picnic area as though we were taking the dogs for a walk.

I like big buns and I cannot lie. 

Next time, we're definitely getting ice cream. 


About to be crushed in the jaws of a giant concrete hippo!

You never sausage a place!

Game Day, Part Two!

Saturday, was Clementine's first soccer match!

Her game was the same time as Sam's on the other side of town. And it was pouring down rain. I rode Clementine to her game in the trailer (see background). Fortunately, the trailer has a rain cover. My bike, on the other hand, does not. She arrived for kick-off mostly dry (though she wouldn't stay that way for long). Her dad wasn't so lucky.

Cold right before opening kick-off. 

There she goes!

One of the few moments in the game when Clementine and the ball were in the same shot! :) 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Spring Showers

I had plans to run home yesterday after work, but only made it as far as the Lincoln Memorial before pulling up lame. A weird popping in my knee sent me turning around in search of the Foggy Bottom metro station, tail between my knees.

I was acutely disappointed, but cheered by the vision of Clementine bounding down the sidewalk to greet as I walked home from the train. She was dressed head to toe in rainbows, looking like she had escaped from a rainbow penitentiary. I had but a few moments to relax. Peter was home, too; Elise picked him up from school at noon after he found himself in the nurse's office with a stomach ache. He was busy transforming himself into a Transformer, asking me to help rubber band plastic sticks to his arm to stand in for the exhaust pipes a la his hero, Optimus Prime.

Elise ran down to fetch Sam from the bust stop then, after depositing him at the house, walked for an hour. The running store behind our house was holding a fun run/shoe sale in the parking lot, and the kids climbed to the top of the wooden fence that had been uprooted during the last big windstorm. Just like the Lil Rascals, they were spying on the runners in lime-green, moisture-wicking wear through the knot holes. I listened to a young women leading the runners through stretches over a PA system while I lit the grill and salted the steaks, fuming over the irony.

As we ate, a dark line of clouds massed to the east. The running store broke down their tents and took the PA system, Gatorade coolers, and power bars inside the store. I checked the weather on my phone. There was an 80% chance of rain at the eight o'clock hour only. Afterwards, clear skies. I read: fast-moving and strong. Spring.

I made dinner. The steaks, roasted red potatoes, asparagus, and grilled brussel sprouts all turned out well. My homemade, yeast-less flatbread didn't. Then, when it came time to grill the garlic, I completely ignored Elise's instructions to chop off the top, wrap it in foil, then drizzle olive oil over it. The only part I remembered was to wrap it in foil. When it came out of the oven it was a dry husk of roasted garlic. I admitted I had to many balls in the air, but Elise insisted it wasn't ruined. I believe she was being overly kind.

After dinner, I pretended my phone was ringing off the hook with calls for the kids. The Video Game Academy called for Sam offering him a free scholarship to play video games all summer. Sadly, though, their cafeteria served no vegetables. Was he still interested? Peter, got a call from Optimus Prime. Clementine got a call from the Unicorn Stables regarding her unicorn riding lesson. Elise got a call from Ben, her Zengo (cycling class) instructor.

Then, my phone rang for real.

Elise had jumped into the shower, and I had started clearing the table when Clementine ran into the kitchen to tell me my phone was ringing for real. I missed the call. It was my aunt calling from Florida.

I tried calling her back, but there was no answer. I texted her, "Did you try to call me?"

"Yes," she replied. "At pharmacy."

My mom had been released from the hospital and was headed home. My aunt was with her, as was a nurse who was to teach her how to hook herself up to her feeding tube.

My aunt called me a minute later, crying.

It had all become too much. I couldn't blame her. She said she was feeling emotional, because she hadn't eaten all day. This, after the conversation I had had with the nurse earlier that afternoon. The conversation where I finally had the opportunity to ask what a TPN line was and what a peg tube was. I had had so many terms thrown at me over the last few weeks and months I didn't know what was what. I was partially living in this world and partially in another, where the acronyms and jargon aren't important until they are.

Just then, a loud crack of thunder rumbled the house. All three kids ran from their room to me, sitting on the couch in the living room. I sat Sam on my lap.

I told Jackie I could come down. She said not to come yet. I don't know what to do. I don't know that anyone does in this situation. Ever, really.

I tucked the kids back in bed, then laid down on the floor in their room. We listened to the rain fall and the grumble of thunder gradually fade into the distance. Clementine fell asleep first. Then, Sam. I got up slowly and kissed Peter on the cheek, wishing him good night, telling him in hushed tones I hoped his stomach felt better in the morning.

We have a ritual bedtime routine. It involves us tapping our index fingers together, then locking it in, as though we are turning a key in a key hole. Then we "scrub noses" and I kiss him on the cheek. Finally, I say, "Good night, sweet boy." To which he always responds,

"Good night, sweet daddy."

Game Day!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spring has Sprung

At some point over the winter months, I had forgotten how resilient nature is. It wasn't a particularly long, cold, or dreary winter. At one point, it even reached the 80s in February. But also at some point over the winter months, perhaps right around the same time I had forgotten how resilient nature was, I became acutely distressed by the condition of our yard.

Our yard -- in short -- was a mess. The grass wasn't green. It was brown and dead or dying. Unraked leaves crowded into the corners of the yard and hard-to-reach-with-a-rake places between bushes and behind trees. All the bushes and what we used to call "clumps", islands of ferns back in Florida, had also died. Gone was everything magical about our backyard. Sadly, it only snow once, so not even a beautiful white blanket of freshly-fallen snow would cover it. At one point last spring or summer, I remember thinking of when I so badly wanted to move from Florida to a house like we have now with a yard like we had then. But that yard was gone now, and gone with it was the feeling like we had moved from Florida for greener pastures, because our pastures were now, literally, brown and dead or dying. I thought it would never come back. I couldn't imagine our yard ever looking again like it did last spring and summer.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

Because nature is amazingly, powerfully resilient. And perhaps no more so than this spring after the winter we had -- though not particularly difficult in any one sense, but not especially easy in any other sense either -- I very much needed to be reminded of the resilience of nature and very much needed the comfort that comes from cycles. That when the sun sets it will rise again. That no matter how much rain falls, the sun will shine. And after winter, spring will always spring once more.

A few weeks ago, I saw my neighbor laying mulch down in his yard. I asked him what were some of the things I should be doing to ready my yard for spring. As I mentioned, I was anxious it would not return to its former glory (I should add as a matter of perspective our yard is really nothing to write home about. It's really just we've never had a yard before. I never really mowed a lawn or did yard work. Coming from Florida, all that was usually done by lawn men or an HOA. When we raked leaves this past fall, it became a family endeavor with everyone pitching in to pile leaves on top of a tarp covering the lawnmower in the shed out back and dragging them out to the street to be sucked up by the bi-weekly leaf pick-up service).

My neighbor didn't say much, but I had the thought to rake the rest of all the crap out of our flower beds out so they were ready to bloom. 13 giant bags of lawn refuse later, things were already starting to look up.

We had two bags of mulch just lying in the backyard. I dragged one to the front and spread it in one of our flower beds. There are two small rose bushes there I had not noticed before. Maybe not bushes so much as twigs with the promise of roses, at this point.

In the last week or two, my concerns have melted away. The azaleas and the dogwood are blooming. Our street is wrapped in varying shades of bright red, snowy white, pick, violet and purple. Warm rains have helped our grass turn from brown to a shamrock green. I mowed it on Saturday.

We recently received the kids' soccer match schedules. Saturdays for the next eight weeks will be a joyous rush to one park or another across town. We have three matches every Saturday we now have to juggle and I can't wait until the opening face-off. Elise and I will have to split up and divide and conquer. She shuttling Sam to his matches in Arlington while I take Clem and Pete in the trailer behind my mountain bike to the park in Falls Church closer to our house.

With my management class behind me, I am back to work downtown. Though not particularly happy to be back, it does signal the beginning of the end, our final few months in the States before heading back overseas.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Management Class

I have spent the last six weeks in my management class learning the skills needed for my new job in Jordan. The schedule is much lighter than my schedule was when I was working downtown, but somehow doesn't afford me the time to needed to keep up this blog like I would like. I don't know where the extra time goes. I spend it getting stuff done at home and with the kids, I guess. There is no shortage of goings-on in our life; which is also a double-edged sword. The more we have going on, the less time we have to document it here. 

Recently, Peter and Clementine have both started their soccer practices. Everyone is in soccer this spring! Which will make for a hectic few months since we now have three nights of soccer practice a week. Not counting games! Sam hasn't started practice yet (the weather didn't cooperate last week and spring break starts the end of this week), but he is very much looking forward to it. 

Sam now has his own work desk in the basement where he can have some private time to work on his science experiments. Peter and Clementine know the area is off limits and have largely respected Sam's space. It seems to be affording him the time and space he needs to clear his head after school. 

A few weeks ago, we all drove down to South Carolina to visit Elise's grandmother. The kids were phenomenal in the car. They listened to Pippy Longstocking on books-on-tape most of the way. We won't take another road trip without a books-on-tape again.

Elise went to New York last weekend for her annual pilgrimage to the AIPAD conference. The kids and I hung out for the weekend, going to the zoo and to see Boss Baby. 

I know a list of all the things we have done in the last few weeks is mostly uninteresting and not a replacement for a regular blog post where I hope I paint a better story of things happening in our lives, but I felt the need to explain the absence and set the scene for better blog posts to come.