0

Wide Open Spaces…That We Never Saw – The Week in Review

Days off from school either fill parents with dread (“Now what am I supposed to do with them?!”), joy (“I finally get to spend quality time with my kids!”) or, as in our case, both…

8am-12pm – Yay!
12-4pm – Is it bedtime yet?

Last Friday was an exception. We jumped on the tollway and headed to the Morton Arboretum to check out the Lego exhibit. We’re Arboretum Amateurs, which means from the 1700 acres available to explore, we covered approximately 1. Our kids refused to leave the Children’s Garden, specifically any feature that involved getting soaking wet. There are only so many times you can say, “please stop hollering and hopping across the rocks like frogs on crack,” before your kids land firmly in the muck.

Poor Olivia suffered not 1, but 2 falls, including a face-plant off the side of a tree house. Fortunately, a kind dad was there to dust her off and make sure she was OK as I sprinted across the playlot.

No wait – that’s what should have happened. What actually happened was Olivia landed at the feet of a clueless dad who looked down at the bleeding, crying 4-year-old, shrugged, then went back to his iPhone 6. Tamping down my impulse to slap him till he bled, I scooped Olivia up, shot him a dirty glare, and resolved to enjoy the rest of the 3-day weekend.

Other highlights included:

Midnight Circus
If you’ve ever wanted to run away and join the circus, this would be the one. Yes, the tent was hot. Yes, our kids begged for popcorn to which these 1st and 2nd-gen FOB parents said, “No. You have food at home. Now watch the show.” And yes, Nick brought a book to read. But the show was fantastic, Nick eventually looked up from his latest SF novel, and the performers were incredibly gracious as they signed sweat-stained programs.

Paper Planes
A friend recommended this film. Good, clean family entertainment…in other words, not what I was expecting from the country who gave us Animal Kingdom and The Babadook. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve, which our cynical American kids were not expecting since they kept asking when the other Ugg was going to drop. They were eventually won over, nay, inspired, as evidenced by the paper planes covering every inch of our living room, bedrooms, and front yard.
Available on Amazon Video

Monkey Kingdom
The kids may be too young for 30Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but they can still enjoy the genius that is Tina Fey thanks to our Sunday nature series. Monkeys may look cute from afar, but up close they are petty and vicious. (I do wonder whether the Fey’s Mean Girls history inspired the choice of narrator because the queens of this monkey pack were straight-up bishes!) Never one to stay silent during a movie – must be related to Lori – Nick offered non-stop commentary, punctuating everything with, “because that’s what I saw on Wild Kratts.”

Iris
I’m neither a fashionista nor a Noo Yawker, so I thought Carrie Donovan and Iris Apfel were the same person. This fascinating documentary not only set me straight, but also made me much more tolerant of Olivia’s AM clothing choices. (I am nevertheless counting the days until she can wear the school uniform.)

Reading
In my spare time (ha!), I read Richard Wiseman’s The Luck Factor and Night School – breezy, informative, research-informed books on a good life and a good sleep, respectively. On the nightstand this week are Emotional Intelligence and Radical Acceptance, or is it Emotional Acceptance and Radical Intelligence?

Either way, I need them all.

0

Seeing is Believing

“His hat looks like a – ”

The gentleman seated behind us used the “p” word, one with which we were very familiar since we do have 2 boys and are using anatomically accurate language so they are 100% comfortable with 100% of their body.

Still…

I had not expected to hear it at a Cirque du Soleil show, even if it was 100% accurate. If the kids noticed the language, they gave no indication, too busy fighting over the bag of popcorn that we passed and spilled back and forth down the row.

“Oh my God! No way! No way! Did you see the flip?! How is that even possible?! At the last show…”

I harrumphed in my seat, well aware of the rising tide of exhaustion and annoyance. After a full day of conference calls and last-minute deadlines, we had picked the kids up directly from school, hightailed it down to United Center, plied them with low-mess snacks which they nevertheless managed to spill all over the car, then side-stepped puddles in torrential rain to arrive at the Big Top cold, shivering and wet…which would have been fine had we not been seated in front of the cooling system.

And now, I had to endure the non-stop MST3000 commentary from No-Filter Man.

“Wait, are they fish? Look at that! They’re waving their tails like fish! That’s hilarious!”

I could turn around. I could give him the Disapproving Stink Eye that my kids, unfortunately, know all too well. Or I could-

“Olivia! Stop cramming all of the popcorn into your mouth! That’s disgusting!”

Nick yanked the bag from his sister’s grasp, spilling most of the contents into the aisle. “Now look what you made me do!”

“It’s not A Gusting, Nick. You’re A Gusting!”

“That’s not even a word,” Nick retorted, then bent into the aisle, cupping his hand.

“What are you doing,” I hissed.

He shrugged. “Five-second rule.” The d’uh was implied.

Gabe popped his fingers out of his mouth long enough to complain, “Great! Now there’s no popcorn for me!”

“Gabe, quiet! Nick, you are NOT eating food from the floor.”

“Yeah, A Gusting,” Olivia chimed in.

“Still not a word,” Nick muttered.

“We are here to watch the circus and have fun,” I snapped, and that’s when I saw it. The harrumph from the row in front of us, the sideway glance, the smug shake of the head.

Seriously?!

What do you know, Mr-Hipster-Hat-Who’s-Blocking-My-Kid’s-View? Just wait until you have kids and try to give them some cultural enrichment! You have no idea what we’re going through back here! If you could just step out of your Portlandia Paradise for one minute and stop judging us –

I froze.
Then blinked.
Or rather I tried.
But the beam in my eye wouldn’t let me.

Breathe. Accept. Release.

No-Filter Man resumed his commentary, or maybe he’d never stopped and I just hadn’t noticed. But now I heard his joy, the immediacy of his wonder. And now, I could hear the murmured assent from his companion. I sneaked a glance at the couple – his eyes wide with excitement, her head content on his shoulder, their hands intertwined.

“They must practice at least 5 hours a day. Maybe more.”
“Mmm Hmm.”

Nick still tried to convince me that not all of the popcorn was dirty. Olivia still complained about her sight lines. And Gabe still mewed about not having enough to eat.

“”Mmm Hmm,” I replied to each.  “At intermission, we’ll get a new bag of popcorn and split it into 3.”

The I smiled, leaned back, and finally enjoyed The Show.

2

How I Leaned to Stop Worrying And Love The Day Off

GoneFishing1

I took a day off yesterday.

But I didn’t sleep in. I still woke at 5am for my holy hour – time to curl up in our comfy living room chair and just read, journal and – gasp! – even think. Hard to do with your own business, three kids, and a spouse you’d like to connect with over more than what parenting crisis we needed to solve that day.

By 6:30, the kids began to stir.  I clamped down on my first instinct – to frantically finish setting the table before racing upstairs to pry them from their beds, help them pick weather-appropriate clothes and get downstairs with enough time to snarf breakfast.

Instead, I stretched – a decadent, full-body stretch that seemed to last for hours. Then I retreated to the basement study to – double gasp! – write. Above me, I heard Lori chiding the kids to move their groggy selves just a wee bit faster. There were, of course, protests. And by the time they all reached the kitchen, these minor protests had escalated to a full assault on Lori’s parental authority.

We need more brown sugar, Mommy.  It tastes funny.”
“You don’t. It’s oatmeal and quinoa and you’ll eat it.”

I heard a spoon skitter across the dining room table before hitting the hardwood floor that separated me from the rest of the family.

“Throwing silverware is not acceptable in this house, Olivia.”

There was no separation between me and my daughter’s screaming response….or Lori’s increasingly clipped replies. And while it was tempting to run up to the first floor, and fling my body between the warring factions to negotiate some sort of peace settlement, I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

It was part of the agreement Lori and I had made at the start of the year: at least once a month, we got the entire day off. No wake up duty, no school drop-off, no afternoon pickup, no activity shuttling, no dinner recap.

Nada.

So I sat, waiting for the inevitable détente that arrives just as everyone realizes that they have less than five minutes to leave the house if they want to get to school on time. This was the rhythm of our lives and hearing it from afar, I couldn’t help but smile.

For every argument the boys had about who was going sit closer to their sister, one of them would pour her milk while the other held her cup steady. When they weren’t jostling for a turn at the bathroom sink, the kids were high-fiving one another for the smallest things – clearing the table without being asked, putting a coat on by oneself, or remembering to grab a lunchbox. While Nick spread toothpaste for everyone and Gabe gathered the boots from the mudroom, Olivia grabbed books for them to read in the car.

(Often, the boys put the books back and chose ones themselves, but they didn’t let Olivia see them do it.)

I watched them through the basement window, walking hand in hand to the car. Another successful morning…and there’d been nothing for me to do but watch it unfold.

It’s so hard to see the beauty of one’s life when you’re in the midst of it. To see the miraculous in the mundane. Yesterday was such a gift, a chance to appreciate how privileged I am to parent these kids, and how fortunate I am to share the experience with such a loving partner.

I took a day off yesterday.
And the world didn’t stop.
Instead, it only got better.

9

What Makes Me Tick

Nadine

On the eve of my 43rd birthday, I thought it would be fun to share 43 facts about me.

1. I grew up on Doctor Who. It shaped the proud geek I am today.

2. My children are the most important people in my life.

3. I learned #2 from my parents. (Thanks mom and dad!)

4. I wish I had an accent, so that when I tell people I’m from Trinidad they don’t think I’m just making it up.

5. I get most of my story ideas on the way to client meetings.

6. I get up at 5 every day because it’s the only time the house is quiet.

7. I can keep grudges for a very long time. It’s something I’m working on.

8. I skipped 2nd grade and went to college at 16. My parents regret the choice, but I think it’s better to be forced to swim rather than wade thru boredom.

9. In 3rd grade I decided to read my way thru the YA SF section.

10. I hope at least one of my kids will be a Doctor Who fan. It’s looking pretty slim.

11. In law school, I was voted “least likely to be seen in the building.” I was not there to receive the award.

12. I wish I had attended Montessori longer.

13. I knew Lori was “the one” even before I knew her name.

14. Sometimes houses talk to me. It’s rude not to answer them.

15. The song “Loving You” will make me cry every single time.

16. I am a terrible procrastinator.

17. My thinking face looks like a scowl. It’s something I have to warn clients about.

18. My pet peeve is hypocrisy.

19. My greatest fear is irrelevance. It is the inverse of my strength.

20. I once called Greta Garbo’s apartment. She did not answer.

21. Movies like World War Z terrify me, not because of the zombies, but because I can’t imagine how my kids would fare in such situations.

22. My idea of the perfect day is sitting in the library…for hours.

23. If I could do it again, I would be an elementary school teacher.

24. I’m pretty sure I ruined my eyes watching late-night TV in my bedroom. I covered the top and sides with my pillows and watched thru a tiny opening so the flickering wouldn’t get my parents’ attention.

25. I have a weakness for British accents.  See #1.

26. My dream is to live abroad for a month every year with the family.

27. My other dream is to adopt as many children as need homes.

28. I can find anything in my house blindfolded. I am that anal.

29. My favorite book is Hope for the Flowers. A teacher read it to me when I was 7.

30. I really don’t like the outdoors.

31. My favorite short story is “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang.

32. Occasionally, the future shares itself with me. This happened more frequently when I was a kid.

33. I smile a lot when I’m ticked.

34. I watched the house we live in for 2 years before it officially went on the market.

35. I truly believe I am at least 5’6, and am surprised when I can’t reach things.

36. My go-to jam is a mix of 80’s TV themes.

37. I would like to faint at the sight of blood, but my dislike of showing weakness overrides it.

38. I love the high that comes from fasting.

39. My favorite movie is Green Card. Yeah, it really is.

40. I wasn’t afraid of vampires until Blacula came out.

41. Boiling water in the microwave is the extent of my cooking prowess.

42. I hope there is life on other planets.

43. I am a very private person.

15

To The Wonder

As now can't reveal the mystery of tomorrow But in passing will grow older every day Just as all is born is new Do know what I say is true That I'll be loving you always

As now can’t reveal the mystery of tomorrow
But in passing will grow older every day
Just as all is born is new
Do know what I say is true
That I’ll be loving you always

Last night, Lori and I were in bed together, engaged in our second favorite activity –

Surfing the web on our respective iPads.

Our first is sleep.
Really.
(When you have kids, sleep trumps everything else.)

I poked her excitedly on the shoulder. “Did you know that the same people who liked To the Wonder also listen to Ravel?” We had watched Terrence Malick’s movie a few days prior.

And by watched, I mean I had sat enraptured while Lori had popped in and out from the kitchen.

“Has anything actually happened yet,” she’d asked, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

“Well, his movies aren’t really action-driven. It’s more of a mood thing…” Malick is a love-him-or-hate-him director. I adore his sweeping visuals and esoteric dialogue; Lori keeps waiting for someone to do something other than stare off-camera while their voice-over plays in hushed tones.

“Isn’t it cool,” I gushed, happy to have discovered a link between my favorite director and favorite composer.

She rolled her eyes.
Yes, she did.
There are days when I wonder how we ever ended up together.

She waved her iPad in front of my face. “Well, I just downloaded the Smithsonian app.”

I stared blankly at her.

“You know, like the museum,” she continued.

I went back to reading about Malick.
Yes, I did.
There are days when she wonders how we ever ended up together.

The differences between us still surprise me, even after all of this time. She unloads the dishwasher and stacks all of the dishes on the counter…then leaves them there. Drives me insane. She also weeds the yard by piling everything on the pathway where it will stay…for days.  Never mind the fact that the brown yard bag is 2 inches away.

But she also puts up with my stuff. I am meticulous about laundry – how to prep it, do it, and fold it. Don’t get me started on how to put away towels. When I find a towel that hasn’t been folded “properly”, I refold it and put it back in the closet. I’m also guilty of making not-so-subtle comments about simple things that need to be fixed around the house…every. freaking. day. until she carves time from her busy schedule to replace the smoke detector batteries.

It’s been 21 years, some better than others. A good friend described a relationship like a symphony – sometimes you’re the treble, other times the bass, but as long as you’re both playing from the same sheet of music, you’ll be OK.

Tension is to be loved when it is like a passing note to a beautiful, beautiful chord.
– Sixpence None the Richer

We’ve passed the stage when we wonder whether the disagreement du jour is, in fact, The Last. We know it’s ok to go to bed peeved with one another because sleep – see above – is more important to a relationship than any wee-hour discussion of who was right or wrong.

And we have finally learned that love doesn’t change other people.
It changes you to accept other people for who they are.

This morning, while debating where to put away a coffee cup, I looked over at Lori and saw her stirring oatmeal on the stove. I have seen her do it thousands of times –

And yet –

There it is.
The wonder.

No longer the question
Is this “it”?

But the answer.
Wow. This is it.

To the wonder I go
Humbled and amazed with each passing year.

4

When All That’s Left Is the Board

"We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time." - Vince Lombardi

“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”
– Vince Lombardi

King’s pawn to e4.

My dad has opened every chess game with this classic move. But this time, I’m not the one sitting across from him. It’s Nick, and he’s matched my dad’s move with an equally classic response.

King’s pawn to d5.

The two figures will stare each other down for the rest of the game.

Before this year, I had only beaten my dad once. It took us both by surprise. Left with only a bishop, knight, queen, and a smattering of pawns, I had haphazardly zeroed in on my dad’s king until he had nowhere left to run.

“Check,” I announced proudly, then, looking at the pieces again added, “…mate?

He examined the board – I could see from the rapid movement of his eyes, he was not only verifying the win, but replaying the moves that had led to this conclusion.

“Yes,” he finally said, then added, “Good game.”

He could well have said, “it’s raining outside” because his words were a statement of fact, not a verbal high-five. But I was used to it. After all, this was a West Indian household and superior performance was just the status quo. His tone, like his chess game, was decisive. There was a set pattern of behavior that yielded a set outcome. It was how he lived his life and how he had raised his offspring.

We were checklist children:

Private school. Check.
Afterschool enrichment. Check.
Competitive college. Check.

And it was how his father had raised him. A man who, by the time I was old enough to remember him, was a whisper of his former self – the proud family patriarch with the orator’s voice and the scholar’s vocabulary had become just “grandpa” – a mumbling, meandering man for whom once familiar faces were now a mystery.

“Dad, are you sure you want to move that piece there?” His knight hovers over f4, where Nick’s bishop will easily take him from h6.

He scans the board again, slower than I remember, then shakes his head ruefully before moving a pawn instead.

“I don’t know what I was thinking.”

This is how it has been for the last year. The difference between who my father was and who he will become is now a question of subtraction – as memories fade, skills diminish, and the person who shaped who I am fades away.

“Grandpa, it’s your turn,” Nick prods gently. My dad has drifted off to sleep, but Nick waits patiently as he returns to us. “You could move your rook there,” he says, pointing to a5. “I promise I won’t eat you.”

At 7, I can see the man he is becoming, a question of addition as the sum of his experiences define his personality, like shouting so Lori’s mom can hear him, or helping his other grandma down the stairs, or letting my dad retain some dignity as he faces losing to a 2nd grader.

The day’s game ends in a draw – both players chasing each other around the board with neither able to declare victory. But I know this is temporary, that some day soon, Nick will beat his grandpa. That some day soon, Grandpa won’t realize that he’s lost.

Or what he’s lost.

I’m saying goodbye to my dad piece by piece because I know how the game ends. I think he knows it too.

But he probably won’t remember by the time it happens.