Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's hard to be a single parent for four days, keeping the kids going, pets alive, and the house in order. It's the least I can do to support Ma Chere, who needs to be by her mother's side right now.

It just hasn't been easy that I've been sick as a dog the whole time. Both kids are under the weather too, fortunately not as sick as I have been.

A lot of my parenting tricks require physical robustness. Need to kill some time after breakfast or before dinner? How about a walk around the neighborhood to check out some construction sites or get dad a coffee? Or how about not.

And acute laryngitis (not to mention bronchitis, coughitis, and headacheitis) is anathema to my parenting style. I never really resented the legendary length of some Dr. Seuss books...until reading them caused me physical pain. ("Turn it loud, dad!" "i...can't!")

And I'm absolutely sure Ma Chere would have preferred to stay with her mom an extra day or to see her family sooner rather than get stranded by the airlines at a hotel in Phoenix a day late.

But I'm glad she's coming home tonight.


Sorry. I might make them go away.

School of Rock

One way I can tell that Boom's individuation has begun is that he often asks me to change the car radio station. I tend to prefer NPR and news. But his request is invariably either "I want music" or "I want rock and roll music."

His preference for rock and roll music is usually for "LOUD rock and roll music," but sometimes for "FAST rock and roll music," occasionally for "FAST, LOUD rock and roll music.

The other day he was happily air-drumming to a Steve Miller song (fun game: say "Crash symbol" and he makes a swipe in the air and says "TSCHHHHH!!!") when the song "Over the Hills and Far Away" came on next. You probably know it: Led Zeppelin song, pretty acoustic guitar riff at the beginning, but then much Robert Plant shrieking and general rocking. So Boom says, "Turn it to rock and roll music. This isn't rock and roll."

So it fell to me to instruct him on this finer point of rock. "Oh, this song will rock. Don't worry about that. This is Led Zep! They rock!" Just then there was some quality John Paul Jones bass and, especially, Jon Bonham drumming, and air-drumming resumed.

The next day we heard "Landslide", and I explained why some rock was loud, fast rock, but other rock was gentle rock, but they were both still rock. I didn't go so far as to say that in the Great Tao of Rock, the loud rock requires the gentle rock to rock loud, just as the gentle rock requires the loud rock to rock gently. I did say that people need different kinds of music to rock different ways, to say different things with their hearts.

The next day, we were listening to a Steve Earle song on the CD player. Banjo, voice, bass, and kick drum. I asked Boom, "Does this song rock?" "Yes, it rocks." "Even though it doesn't have electric guitars?" "Yes, it's rock and roll music."

So I think it's working.

It probably helps that I recently saw "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny." Lyrics I will not teach Boom but rather will let him discover for himself include:

I'm the Devil
I love metal


A long-a** *@#$ing time ago
In a town called Kickapoo

Flowering trees from a bridge over waves in the rain

On a whim, I invited the dog along for the ride. After she jumped into the back of the Subaru, I buckled Blueberry into her car seat and we headed off in the drizzle towards Boom's school. Twenty til noon, plenty of time to reach the suburbs by the time preschool let out. He was pretty sedate, and Blueberry was pretty chipper, so we took the long way home: across a few side streets, then along Beach Drive, and finally down onto Rock Creek Parkway where we followed the creek along its course.

Nothing stirs a kayaker's blood quite like driving along a river in the rain. Threading along the easy curves prompts a muscle memory of running shuttle before countless whitewater trips. Each bend in the road, each stolen glance through the passenger side at an interesting ripple in the water seems to quicken the blood a little. It's like a muscle memory for my adrenal gland: first the curves, then the boats off the car, then the first few dips of the paddle...then it's anybody's guess. It's a muscle memory more than a mental memory, because (like my pal Chris) I don't tend to remember the actual rapids or river run very clearly: the alive, present, active and reactive engagement of paddling isn't always conducive to analytical detachment. (Yet somehow the stories of this or that mishap on the river can be recollected with beer.)

But I'm not bombing down the road or anything. Nope, a flat 25 mph for me and my brood. Why rush it? Besides, the roads are slippery.

Most of all, I am enjoying the changing view. It's not exactly a river gorge, but the sides of the creek slope distinctly upward to higher ground above. And the foliage is bright green, because the cold, wet spring has delayed the onset of the dense green canopy. The gray sky and light green cover give a shine to everything, especially the dogwoods that still have their white and fuscia flowers.

The kids' windows are rolled down so that their view isn't obscured by running rivulets or fog. This admits a little spray, but it's refreshing. (The dog is a little prissy when it comes to water, and for that matter she gets a little hazy when the car corners so much.)

The creek is definitely up. In fact, we get to a section that is a little boulder garden, with noisy waves and haystack holes that don't materialize in drier weather. That quickens me more, even if the car stays the same speed. So when I notice a pull-out to the side of the road, it's nothing to bank the wheels and stop by the side of the road. Just in front of us, now I see a bridge through the leaves.

"We're going on an adventure," I tell the kids. I get out, unbuckle Boom from the driver's side carseat, help him on with his firetruck raincoat, and help him get down when no cars are hissing by. We come around back and I leash the dog up and let her out, and grab an umbrella. Then I put on the baby carrier -- Blueberry is almost too big for the veteran Ergo now, but I'm going to need free hands to manage the dog and the boy on the bridge -- and strap Blueberry to my front. We walk over some slick mud to a path towards the bridge.

At the apex of the arch, though the broad wooden handrails at my knee and waist, we look back up towards the boulders. It's frothy and splashy and exciting. (Standing over moving water is archetypal anyways: I think that's why vampires can't cross bridges.) Boom does a good job not climbing through the handrails, and Blueberry is agape and engaged. We cross to the other side, to a broader path under some trees.

Then we clamber down a little towards some wide, flat rocks at the edge of the quick creek. I reitierate to Boom how important it is to keep a safe distance from the water. (From the road, I had already contemplated what a pain it would be to need to rescue boy, dog, umbrella, or self from the current -- but like a kayaker who has seen and participated in many a river mishap, I had thought through courses of action for each eventuality.) Boom slips and slaloms down through the mud, with only my grip on one wrist keeping him up. We throw a few sticks into the river, to illustrate river speed and dunking potential, and because it's fun. (Because of my foresight, I remembered to grip the dog's collar before throwing the sticks: even my best dog rescue plan was probably going to be a fiasco.)

The rain was falling pretty steadily, and the kids still hadn't eaten lunch. And I wanted to leave them with a rushy feeling, not a drab and damp one. So we started back. But at the middle of the bridge, we pause again.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How do you spell the 3 Rs in Chinese?

Forget all that stuff I said about DC public schools. The boy got in! to the public charter school of our choice! that's very close to our house! and is a bilingual Chinese immersion program! with sound management and leadership!

To our California friends: it looks like it might take us a little longer to get out there than we thought.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Work has been kind of stressful lately, so it was nice to at least put on freshly starched shirt to wear to the office today.  Then Blueberry woke up (from a solid 7:30pm - to - 7am sleep) so I went into her room to say good morning and get her dressed.  I greeted her with my usual greeting, and picked her up out of her crib.  But instead of just transferring her directly to the changing table, I held her and we shared a beautiful hug.  And then I realized that her soiled diaper was soaking through the sleeve of my shirt.
Luckily, there was more than one freshly starched shirt in the closet.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

That tears it

I was present at the lottery for the DC public charter school of our choice.  Pre-K, language immersion, good administration and parent support, the works.  
Boom was not selected.
All is not lost, apparently. He has a decent chance at getting in through the wait list, which will be posted tomorrow and activated in two weeks.
Although we were lucky to get accepted to his present pre-school -- where it must be said that the boy is developing, thriving, and enjoying his little friends -- this felt like the first arbitrary, luck-based tournament that we have entered a child into.  It sucked.  And there will probably many more such arbitrary selection processes leading all the way to college admissions and perhaps the NFL Draft (but hopefully not the Selective Service lottery). One is reduced to waiting for someone to pick the correct slip of paper from a whirling brass drum.  A drum, by the way, filled with names of jerky little kids that probably all live down in Capitol Hill where there are already decent schools, but their jerkly little parents want them to be something special (even though they are not).
Basically, the suckiness of this process recapitulates the fact that DC public schools ain't that great.  Washington DC spends more per pupil than any other state and our schools, by and large, blow.  And seeing as how this blog post is turning in to a wide-open rant, I should raise the point that whether DC should be compared to states rather than cities or counties is an open question.  Also: I pay direct taxes in the form of income taxes and payroll taxes, and I don't have any voting representation in Congress -- which sucks.  And I owe 4 digits to the IRS this year, which!
So anyway, this is a shout out to all our California friends...we might be joining you sooner than later, refugees from the DC public school system!

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Our 'ting

Ma Chere and I often sound like mobsters talking on a tapped line.

The problem we are trying to get around is the children's impatience--if you mention you're going somewhere, you'd better be ready to head out the door. So instead of "Are you going to the park with the kids?" It's "Are you going to to do the thing?"

Of course, we also try to avoid crushing expectations as well. So when we belatedly realized we wouldn't make it to an Asian New Year party, with its promise of tasty foods and sweets for Boom, it was "Are we going to see our friend?"
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Ma Chere and I were down on the Mall today to celebrate the Inauguration. Our caregiver had the kids, so we headed down around 8:30am or so. Our metro train originated one spot away, so we got a seat. The driver kept changing her mind about which stations were closed. Finally she announced "L'Enfant the chain." We got off at Gallery Place.

I hoped to stand in the same spot where I had held a sign ("One Mandate: Ballot Reform") and booed in 2001, and maybe kiss my wife there. (We didn't meet until two months later.). But the pedestrian access to the parade route was choked with people. So we picked and darted our way west of the White House and down to the Mall. We hopped over some chains and cement barriers, and eventually found a spot on the hill where the Washington Monument stands. With that monument over our shoulder and a view of the Capitol and a pair of jumbotrons in front of us, we stood and waited in the cold for a few hours.

From the hill, we could see the crowds. I've seen crowds before, but none like that. The AP said over 1 million, and it was certainly easy to imagine 1,000 blocks of 1,000 people from where we stood. It was awesome, standing at roughly the midpoint between the steps of the Capitol and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The crowd was so peaceful and polite. I've read that democracy is a religion, and people were definitely respecting their co-religionists. Once the formal program was underway, announcements to "please sit" or "please stand" were greeted with mirth. The claps of gloved hands resounded like thunderstrikes.

The inaugural speech was great, and if you look I'll bet you can find a video of it on the WWW.

After it was over, it was nuts. Watching 1m people drain out of perhaps 15 points of egress took a while. Unfailingly polite, the crowd let us escape after about 75 minutes. We saw the Marine helicopter fly overhead at about 2pm. It circled back around, presumably to see the spectacle again (as opposed to a victory lap.)Another 15 minutes, and we were having lunch in an Adams Morgan restaurant.

For a bedtime story, I told Boom about how kings used to transfer power: from father to son, rarely to daughter, and all to frequently after much fighting. But now Barrack Obama gets to fly the big, pointy helicopter over our house. (Boom feels bad that John McCain doesn't get to ride.).

For his bedtime song, I sang him the National anthem.
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Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas Cheer: Greed, Lust, or Gluttony?

Boom was watching the Patriots game with me last night, and one of the commercials was about kids ecstatically tearing off wrapping paper under Christmas trees to fulfill their greatest holiday wishes. Rip! Squeal! Tear! Glee! Over and over again. Nico's mouth was agape.
He doesn't see a lot of commercials on PBS, especially not these kind.  They're the best Madison Ave. can come up with, on the most important retail event on the calendar.  And they were working.  
So I said, "What are you watching?" And he knew he was busted right away.  He got all embarrassed and started jumping up and down and laughing. He was totally lost in a Christmas fantasy...and there was sin in his heart.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Van lettering we can believe in

Riding my bike to work today, November 5, 2008, I trailed a white van for a clean-up/disaster recovery service -- the kind you hire when your basement floods or whatever.
Not particularly noteworthy, maybe. But I noticed that this van also advertised "Trauma and crime scene clean-up."

Now that's a coincidence. Or maybe I'll be seeing a whole lot of these vans in DC real soon. Goodness knows this town needs them.
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Saturday, November 01, 2008

She should have been fathoms deep in sleep, but she roused early tonight. Fortunately, early for her means just at the end of a nightcap for me on this Halloween night. So I prepare a bottle and take it to her, and she feeds on it. Drinks the bottle nearly to the end, in fact.

But she has not been well lately, with weeks of congestion, an ear infection, and most definitely a longing for her mama who has been away traveling these past few weekends. So it is no great surprise to me - though none the less alarming - when she breaks from the bottle in heaving, phlegmy coughs.

My first reaction is to soothe her and to pat her back in a productive way. But another round of coughing seizes her. So I pat, and bounce, and try all the other learned routines I know of midnight feeding. I comfort her back to a heavy, warm (slightly feverish?) mass resting on my shoulder.

But the next round of coughs is so violent that I take her from my shoulder and turn her to look at me.

And for a fleeting moment she opens one eye and it meets mine, between coughing on her part and back-patting on mine. And in that instant I think I know what Melville saw in his deep sea divers. Just one glance communicates calm, acknowledges distess, and above all else makes me aware of am entirely different conciousness.

Perhaps we are all so otherworldly when we sleep, and perhaps babies even moreso. But the eye I saw gave me the sense that the mind it was attached to belonged somwhere fathoms away, even while connecting to me very intimately. It would not have been out of place on the side of a baleen head, lolling briefly above the surface just before diving down deeply again.
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