Saturday, May 31, 2008

Transitions are hard, part 2

The improved American highway system isolated the American-in-transit. On his speedway he had no contact with the towns which he by-passed. If he stopped for food or gas, he was served no local fare or local fuel, but had one of Howard Johnson's nationally branded ice cream flavors, and so many gallons of Exxon. This vast ocean of superhighways was nearly as free of culture as the sea traversed by the Mayflower Pilgrims.
--Daniel J. Boorstin

A few too-short hours after we arrived, I was in my seminar, marveling that an eight-fingered mouse could make such good coffee, while Mama and 3B got some well deserved sleep. When they got up, they headed out to the pool and beaches to play. Along the way, Mama discovered that the effect of all of 3B's swim lessons had worn off--he was much happier walking around the pool than going in, although he did finally give into and enjoy the temptations of the kiddie pool.

Mama also discovered that the beaches are merely well-groomed flats of sugary sand built on top of steep piles of boulders. This means that they're nice for lying on and scooping sand on, but you're not allowed to enter the water from them. Fortunately, Mickey provides half a dozen or so pools right by the beaches. 3B wasn't bothered by the lack of swimming off the beach; he was too busy figuring out what this sand stuff was and being fascinated by the waterfall in the pool.

After my seminar let out, Mama and I were busy figuring out how that eight-fingered mouse could make such good margaritas.

The next day, my seminar let out at noon, and 3B was too wound up from his morning with Mama in the Magic Kingdom to nap, so we all headed back on the monorail and were immediately greeted by a parade.

3B was happy to dance up and down the closed street and amuse the waiting crowds. And, even though 3B didn't know who anyone in the parade was, he was more than happy to see them.

Unfortunately, Mama and Papa weren't much help introducing him to the characters in the parade--"That's Mickey and Minnie, and those things dancing behind them are...uh...dancing turds? phalluses? oh...brooms from Fantasia!

Poor 3B. Next time he should take chaperones who aren't so mainstream-impaired as we are.

And then we had a full day in the Magic Kingdom--let me summarize: if it goes fast, flies, spins--or, ideally, all three--3B loves it. If it involves standing in a mass of sweating, slowly shuffling people, 3B doesn't love it. Mama reported that when they were in line for Dumbo, 3B cuffed the man in front of them. For the record, when he was waiting in line with me at the teacups, there was no cuffing.

What are all those people doing on my ride?
Also, props to my sister, California Girl, for the warning about the transitions after rides. We thought getting 3B to wait in line was bad only until we tried to extract him from a ride. The only one we could get safely away from was Buzz Lightyear, but I think that may be because he was in a stupor from all the lights! aliens! flashing! guns! spinning!

Tea cups!
But, trying to leave the teacups?

The waiting is the hardest part...
Screaming, body flinging, heart-breaking pleading...but we kept to our stick-and-move strategy and rolled out as fast as we could after each ride to the next shiny thing. Fortunately, Disney provides a few of those, although not all were of great appeal to a toddler.

In fact, all of ToonTown was a wash except the plane smashed into the water tower, but that's just because it's a plane, not because it's a Toonplane. It doesn't help that Disney has locked all the characters away in pay-to-play events. I remember going to Disneyland back in the not-so-distant day when it was possible to find the characters wandering through the lands, but we didn't see a single character outside of a parade or stage show. However, there were plentiful breakfast/lunch/dinner events with Mickey/Minney/Pooh/princesses.

Not only does Disney make a pretty penny from those "special" events, they make money from kids like 3B, who were told that they were going to a magic place where they would see Mickey Mouse. On his first visit, since there was no parade, Mama had to buy 3B a plush doll, just so 3B could see Mickey. Nobody ever said Disney was shy about making a buck, but even with that reputation, this seemed a bit crass.

Or am I just becoming an old man, complaining about how "Things aren't like they used to be when I was growing up..."?

And then, the next day--up at ohmigawd dark thirty, bus to airport, fly home, find car, drive home, meet Grammy, dinner, bath, books, bed, unpack, laundry, grocery shopping, catch up on work, wake up, more laundry, packing, books, nap, goodbye to Grammy, taxi to airport, get on plane, eat food, doze, wake up in Brussels.

What now?

The saga continues tomorrow...

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Transitions are hard, part 1

“A thought is an idea in transit.”

Do dis, den do dat.
3B enjoying his favorite airplane reading--the safety card, which he summarizes, "Do dis, den do dat."

Two weeks ago, we woke 3B up early from his nap to ensure we would make it to our quick flight from Dulles to the Happiest Place on Earth. However, seven hours later, when the day was done, we still hadn't entered the Magic Kingdom; instead, at midnight we were still on our flight from Atlanta, making our final descent into Orlando.

Watching a video

We arrived at our hotel room at 1:30 a.m. the next morning.

This was in part because we never saw the notice that we had to receive our boarding passes 40 minutes before the flight departure time, in part because Dulles has a 40+ year old system for getting passengers to their gates (read: BDBs--big dumb buses), and in part because AirTran is a cheap airline and, as the man says, you pay for what you get, particularly when it comes to customer service.

On the upside, 3B had taken a long nap and that magic mouse does make it easy to get to his hotels, which is much appreciated in the wee hours of the morning. Also, Mama and I could take a lesson from 3B who was unflappable for most of the trip, unaware that plans had changed at all.

In fact, at 12:30 a.m., he was having the time of his life going up and down the steps of Mickey's Magical Express bus while Mama and I tried to stay awake as we waited to leave the airport.

I couldn't get a picture of him actually doing this, since I was busy preventing him from tumbling down the steps and braining himself on the concrete, but here's the bus. Use your imagination.

On the other hand, 3B could have taken a lesson on unflappability from us when it came to leaving rides in the Magic Kingdom.

More on that tomorrow...

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Disney magic, dangerous sleep, denim shorts

This has been a great trip. It's been an excellent conference, and even though we didn't get into the park yesterday, we all had a good time playing at the many pools and beaches, although I could only do that after the sessions were over. However, since it's 80 degrees through the night here, the only hard part of scheduling was figuring out when we had to leave the pool.

It's nice to be able to stay outside late because while the sun has been up I've mostly been inside a windowless conference room. I've been out long enough to see the maid parade this morning--a bit surreal to see 100 costumed maids, complete with parasols, parade around the pool--and some make some other observations, which have raised some questions...

Disney Employees ... sorry, Cast Members
Love the hotel, pools, beaches, food, boats, monorail, park--everything that you do. Love the magic that makes it all so easy to enjoy, but seriously, does ending every conversation with, "Have a magical day!" make you want to shoot yourself in the head? Also, how many times have you ended personal conversations with that by accident--

"Wanna have another drink, Dave?"

"No, dude. I'm outta here. Have a magical day!"

Why do you hate hotel cribs?

Also, for future reference, the headboard is called that because you're supposed to sleep with your head at that end of the bed. The other end of the bed is called "the foot" of the bed because you are supposed to sleep with your feet at that end of the bed.

While it is, perhaps, impressive that you can spend the entire night stretched out from one side of the bed to the other, a few words of advice about this: if you punch your mother in the face and kick your father in the face all night long while you do this, please plan on being well-behaved for the entire next day.

Also, just because your mother is flexible and can sleep in a full split with you extended horizontally between her legs, don't think that your father can do this without reconstructive hip surgery.

Also, Disney...any way to make the crib rails two inches higher so that tall toddlers can't climb out within 30 seconds? Maybe apply some Disney magic?

American Men
Denim shorts--stop it. Now.

They aren't cutoffs, and you shouldn't be wearing cutoffs anyway unless you're time traveling back 40 years to Max Yasgur's farm.

Denim shorts make you look like a doof. Not even Disney magic can make you look good in these. Especially those long ones--denim knickers? culottes? capris? Whatever...they're a disaster.

You're an adult. Wear adult clothes.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Seriously, WTF?

Some questions for NYC after spending some time there and for VA after returning back down here to Dixie:

NYC Subway: What's up with everyone having to swipe their MetroCard? Never heard of RFID? Or, do you like how everyone backs up into a human traffic jam at the turnstile?

DC Metro: What's up with everyone having to use their card to get in and out? You can't figure out a single fare for all rides, so everyone only has to stop on the way in? Or, do you like how everyone backs up into a human traffic jam at the turnstile going in and coming out?

NYC Cabs: No questions, just a big thank you for getting Mama 20 blocks downtown in 10 minutes so she could catch her train this morning.

DC/VA Cabs: Why is it that a high-speed, 20-minute NYC cab ride that involved slaloming around swerving buses and creative interpretations of what a red light is and means costs half as much as a half-mile, five-minute peaceful ride through VA's sedate suburban streets? And you wonder why more people don't take cabs?

NYC Subway: Seriously, what's up with all the stairs?

DC Metro: Why did you have Buffalo Bill record all the elevator messages at my Metro stop? It's creepy to be trapped in that glass box and hear him asking me to be polite to others and welcoming me to my destination. I can't help but think that elevator ride is going to end with me alone and starving at the bottom of a well. Welcome home, my ass.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wedding week wrap up

After the Yankees game, I fell into a bit of radio silence because we got a little busy. The weather in NYC on Friday wasn't helping, with the heavy, wind-driven rain bringing traffic to a halt and forcing us to wrap up every box we carried down to the venue in plastic. But we made it through all of that and then some. To catch up, here's some highlights from the rest of the weekend and a question for you parents about next week...

3B Escapes
During the wedding reception yesterday, Mama called to see how 3B was faring with his Grammy, Great Grammy and Aunt D. Turns out that our little Houdini had climbed out of his Pack N Play, which is a first.

Grammy was in the living room and heard screams, so she ran back to 3B'sroom. When she threw open the door, she found 3B standing outside his Pack N Play, apparently no worse for the ordeal. Grammy calmed 3B down and asked him what he wanted. He replied that he wanted to read stories and picked one out (The Vanishing Pumpkin, for those of you keeping score at home). After Grammy finished reading to him and lay 3B back down in his Pack N Play, he did stay in it and go to sleep.

Here's hoping the crib at home is a bit more secure for a little while at least.

Wedding Parade Through Times Square
I survived performing the wedding ceremony without mishap, which was a relief. Fortunately, the bride and groom are both highly organized and excellent planners, so there wasn't much for me to do except be there and read my lines. It helped that most of the ceremony was contained in the readings and their vows, so I did more MC'ing than ministering.

I wasn't too worried about it, but as the best man said of himself giving the toast, I didn't want to be remembered as "that fast-talky guy with the flopsweats and facial tics who broke down cursing at himself in the middle of speaking--'Stupid! Stupid! Why did you say that? Stupid! Stupid!'--and then started sobbing and ended up curled in the corner behind the bar, rocking back and forth, muttering to himself."

With the bar set so low, it was hard not to succeed, but I have to say that we soared above it, thanks to a beautiful couple who inspired and moved us.

After that was all over, a small knot of us ended up on the rooftop, lit by the glow of the NYC skyline, remembering old stories and hearing new ones about each other. It was nice to catch up with friends from high school who are also parents of young kids, and to make some new friends as well. 3B will be able to have playdates with peers across the country, and Mama and Papa have a new bar downtown to play darts in.

And then, a little after midnight, we walked the bride and groom to their hotel in Times Square, stopping for photos of them outside Gray's Papaya, at a pretzel cart, and all of us together in Times Square. Was it wrong that throughout the whole walk, I kept thinking of Curious George and all the places he went when he was lost in the big city?

This morning, after we got up and got to our respective trains, we found that the wedding was in the NYTimes as one of the Weddings/Celebrations announcements in today's Sunday Styles section. As 3B would say, "That's pretty cool."

Hot Foot
The groom treated the best man and myself to a man spa visit before the ceremony. It wasn't my first massage, so I was ready--more than ready--for the melted-puddle feeling that follows, but it was my first pedicure. My only question about the pedicure: why have I never had one before?

Really, she could have stopped after the tub full of warm water and glass beads. But it just kept getting better. There was the Barca-Madrid match on the big screen, then the mint scrub, the lotion and heated booties...again, why have I never done this before?

Of course, as soon as we were done there, we were late for our arrival, so we grabbed our bags, sprinted uptown, changed into our comfy rented tuxes, sprinted downtown, and so within about 30 minutes, our muscles were as knotted up as when we walked into the spa.

I can't imagine how we would have survived through the night without that spa break.

Missing My Internet Dates
Something else that I'd like to do next time we're in NYC is to make the time for some other friends. A lunch with MetroDad got scrubbed in favor of a last minute decision to have the groomal party take trip to the house that Ruth built, and there was just no way to get out to see Anthromama, who lives a short distance outside the city. Of course, next time we won't be there for a wedding, so we'll be more in control of the schedule.

Perhaps I'll even get my buddy, the groom, to meet some of these folks, so he'll see what good people they are and stop scoffing at them as "my internet dates."

After all, I didn't make snide remarks when we went to Midtown Comics on Thursday to pick up his weekly fix of junk delivery of new releases and mingle with the Aged Teenage Boys Club, did I?

OK, I did toss a comic book reference into the ceremony, but it was a great laugh line--helped loosen up the crowd. OK, and one action figure reference, but that was it.

Until the best man gave the toast, anyway.

Under One Roof in the House of a Mouse
In a few days we're off to the happiest place on earth, and I've got a question for the parents out there who've traveled with a ~2 year old: how does bedtime with everyone in one hotel room work? Does everyone just go to sleep at 7:30?

Anything else we should think about, take along, do--or not do?

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Boys playing with bats, balls and tractors

I'll have better pictures when I get back home to where I left the cord for my camera, but this gives you an idea of where we sat:

...the house that Ruth built...

It was a great game. A couple of nice shots over the wall, some nice plays, and great weather to sip a beer, eat some Cracker Jacks, and chill with friends, like the bride and groom:

Groom and bride at...

Or, if you're on your Great-Grammy's farm, it was a great day to drive a tractor (and yes, he does get to ride on ones that actually work too) ...

Vroomy vroomy vroom!

... and play with your cousin ...

3B and Cousin D

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A California yankee in Babe's house

On four hours of sleep--why did I leave all of that cleaning until the last minute?--I made it to the train, made it to NYC, and made it through yesterday, which culminated with martinis on the rooftop of the bride and groom's building, overlooking the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River as the sun set behind them.

I checked in on Mama, 3B and Barky, and all are well. 3B has been asking for me, which is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I'll post more pictures of him on large farm equipment soon. He's taken to going out with Uncle P on the shit spreader every day for about half an hour.

But right now, we've got to run--we is the best man and myself--we're going to a Yankees game. I know. Mama's from New England and so is a Sox fan, and I'm...well...let's just say not a Yankees fan...will 3B still respect me after finding out about this?

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Monday, May 05, 2008

The road years

I'm hoping that unlike Kerouac's travels, this phase we're going through doesn't last for years--or involve cross country jags with speed freaks, hopping freights and ducking yard bulls with dharma bums, and misogynists shooting their wives in Mexico. I'm too old for that shit.

I figure that the rest of it--the trains, planes, taxis, subways, and crazy car seat swaps--will be manageable. The hardest part will be missing 3B when the next loneliness whiplash hits...

OK, so what's the deal with the travel?

Backing up a bit, last week, Mama was in Uganda. She would call and say things like, "I'm sitting in front of my cottage, eating pineapple that they just picked in the garden." And, "I'm sipping a beer out by the pool, which overlooks Lake Victoria. The evening is cool and beautiful; everything is green since it's rainy season; I can hear the music floating up from the city."

I would say things like, "My coffee is cold, and my cubicle is particularly gray today."

She came home, said "hello," kissed me, unpacked, packed, kissed me, said "goodbye," and left with 3B for Great Grammy's farm. We've been videochatting every night, so I get to see the boy for a minute or two, before he has to squirm down to play with all the tractors that Great Grammy has, or run outside to play baseball with Grammy, or go ride a tractor, or see cows at the barn. Last night, Mama was able to take the laptop outside and so I could see (a slightly pixelated version of) 3B playing ball with his Grammy. He would run over every once in awhile to check in. When he did, I would forget about all the half-finished chores surrounding me, the strain and fatigue that strains my face into a semi-permanent wince, and I could feel my heart beating and my breath slowing down. 3B's saying things now like, "Be careful, Grammy." And Mama reports on how much he liked eating Great Grammy's macaroni and cheese, and how much she--that would be Mama--liked eating Aunt D's cookies, and how she's relaxing during 3B's five-hour naps.

I report on how 3B napped for 45 minutes while she was gone and how today Barky pooped on a totally different part of the lawn.

Tractor boy smiles

Later this week, I'm headed to NYC to officiate at my best friend's wedding, which Mama is coming down from the farm to attend with me, leaving 3B with Grammy. That will give us one night to get all, like, likkered up like we were in Chicago that one time where Mama ended up aikido rolling me down the aisle of the train. (For the record, it was all her fault, Mama started it, I was just sitting there, I wasn't even touching her seat, I wasn't the one who thought we needed two pitchers of sangria, it's just not faaaaaair!) The next day, Mama and I will return to our respective corners--her to the farm, while I detox on the train ride back down here to home in Dixie.

Mama and 3B fly in the next day, which gives us almost a whole day before we have to head back to the airport to fly down to Orlando, where I have a seminar that happens to be located at the happiest place on earth. (OK, has anyone figured out which is the true happiest place on earth--Disneyland or Disneyworld? They can't both be the happiest. One has to be happier. If none of you has the answer, I'm definitely going to be the grumpiest mouseketeer on earth until I figure that out.) While I'm learning about the intricacies of taxonomies, ontologies, and information architecture, Mama and 3B will be frolicking in the pool, riding the monorail, and enjoying the happiest place on earth. They'll say things like, "We met Cinderella."

I'll say things like, "I learned how to structure term dependencies to improve findability."

Then, we fly back home on the same day that Grammy flies down here. We all converge at our house for almost a whole day before Mama and I fly out to Brussels while Grammy babysits 3B. This is yet another business trip for Mama, and my boss was generous enough to let me go along*. I will actually be working from Brussels since I can, I don't have that many vacation days to burn, I've got a boatload of work to keep up on, and since Mama will also be working all day. Sure, I could go wander the streets by day while Mama's working and scout the best places to go, so when she got out of her meetings, we could go straight there, but I like the idea of discovering the city together. Besides, if I took the vacation days, when Mama got out of her meetings, I would say things like, "I spent the afternoon drinking the most amazing beer while watching this thrilling kermesse." And Mama would say things like, "The coffee was cold in my plenary session in which we strategized on the logistics of commodity delivery."

Then again, perhaps I should take them as vacation days.

But seriously, I can't afford the days off for a number of reasons, and so if I seem a bit absent or absentminded, now you know why.

(And yes, creepy innernets stalker types, our house will be protected--this time by our neighbor of the military persuasion. If you try anything, here's hoping you know a good battlefield surgeon. Also, we have only two requests: please, no sucking chest wounds in our house--take that shit into the hallway (or just toss yourself off the balcony), and if you do feel the need to bleed out, please do so in the bathroom. We need to redo it anyway.)

*Not that I'm saying this because my boss' wife reads this blog, although she does. He really is a great guy to work for and with...what's that you say? Mid-year reviews are right around the corner? Really? Who knew? Hey, hi there, Christy.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Loneliness whiplash

One week ago, I was on day seven of my tenure as a solo dad; today I'm on day four of my tenure as a dad without a boy or his Mama.

Two days after Mama flew in from Kampala, she and 3B flew out to the farm to visit 3B's Grammy, who is looking after her mom, 3B's Great Grammy, who had a stroke a few weeks back.

The adjustment from being a solo parent to being simply solo has been hard. That first day, I couldn't shake that feeling that I'd forgotten something. I walked out of the house without a boy, a diaper bag, a stroller, or even a sippy cup, and it took all of my concentration to keep moving toward the car. I felt like I needed to run back into the building because surely I couldn't be traveling without any of those.

It almost felt like that first day back at work after 3B was born, but I think this was different because for a whole week I'd been focused on nothing but him, and now he was gone. It was loneliness whiplash, and it got me thinking about what each of us goes through as a parent, as a mother, or as a father.

Before becoming a parent, I could see that the expectation of mothers was that they be nurturing, compassionate homemakers who were content with nothing more than the joy of their children's achievements. I often wondered how mothers who didn't fit any or all of that profile dealt with the tacit pressure from all sides to conform to that model, but I never wondered about the expectations placed on fathers.

As it turns out, despite any social changes periodically heralded by the media, fathers are pretty much still expected to be tough, strict working men who are content with nothing more than supporting their family financially. A father certainly isn't expected to have a tough time saying goodbye to his wife and child, to worry about them, to ache for the comforting chaos of a long summer day spent together, to stand in the doorway of their child's room feeling as though a hole had been cut through his gut.

And yet, I've spent most of my days without them distracted and somewhat confused, as though I woke up and were suddenly right-handed. I can still do everything that I used to...but everything seems somehow vaguely out of place.

I'm not even sure what to do by myself. Go sit at the playground and watch other kids play? Take a ride on the little train in the mall by myself? Push an empty stroller along when I walk Barky?

When a friend in NYC asked if I was going to see Iron Man this weekend, I realized that I could go, and so I did. Yes, by myself. I debated asking various friends, but then it dawned on me that I was not only free to go to a movie, but free to go without having to coordinate two or three or a dozen people's schedules to do it. I also did one thing I love to do, and made a little half-and-half movie myself.

Half of it is for 3B and half of it is for me, who misses 3B and Mama. The original idea was to create a vehicle to allow 3B to hear his favorite John Lee Hooker song while he's at Great Grammy's. According to Mama, he was "playing the blues" on his ladybug xylophone all the way to the airport in the Super Shuttle. Mama was glad that he was preoccupied, but she wasn't so sure that the other shuttle passengers were.

(And while we're talking about lonely papas, go over and give MetroDad some companionship. He needs it right now.)

Updated: Added in paragraphs 3 & 4, which I realized that I'd thought out in my head, but never put down. What can I say? My mind isn't all here.

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