There is a place where time is suspended. Where nothing and everything happens. Two hours a day, five days a week at eight thirty in the morning this memory hole opens. It closes abruptly at ten thirty. Nothing that happens will be discussed. No information will leave the venue. It is a data black hole. There are smiles upon entry and exit, but was the experience joyful? One can only assume that it is. Whenever pumped for details there is vague response, ephemeral even….”We’ll talk about it later”. Although later never seems to happen.
Every so often hints and suggestions of cognitive impressions will surface. Two lines of a song never heard before, a reference to an unknown person, but that is all. It usually goes a little something like this.
Doors slowly open to reveal a line of identically dressed tiny people. As parents and caregivers are recognized undersized legs leap off the step, shoes are retrieved from the rack and the conversation begins…
“Hey buddy, did you have a good day at school?”
”What did you learn today?”
“Well what did you do?”
“We didn’t do anything”
I, for one, do not believe this. And it can be proven in the fact that I was yesterday told all about Mars and Saturn being red and having rings respectively. A song about a train station in the morning that I have never heard before. The mention of a Nigel and Nathan, that one can only assume are classmates. And the big slip up last week. We were putting the crayons away before heading out to the market.
“Daddy you have to roll up your mat before you get in line to go out the door”
“Oh really buddy? I don’t have a mat”
“Then Miss Shara won’t let you line up”
“Is that your teachers name?”
Blank stare. The iron clad rules of Fight Club, I mean preschool, have been firmly reinstated. It is amazing how separate he tries to keep school life from the rest of his day. When asked why Mommy and Daddy aren’t allowed to know what happens at school, his logic is unbelievably solid…..at least if you are three.
“Daddy, learning school is for people who are little and three. You are big and not three so you don’t learning school. Its for me, not you.”
I see work in the Intelligence field in his future. I may have clearance, but I apparently do not have the all important Need to Know. Have fun running the SCIF little man, its perfect for you since you have a complexion that doesn’t lend itself to direct sunlight anyway.
(Acronym Deciphering SCIF – Secret Compartmented Information Facility, large secure facility where Top Secret and highly sensitive information is kept. One must have proper clearance and need to know to access any material. You can have all the clearance in the world but if your work doesn’t relate you don’t have access to just anything and everything)
Since I have a bit of time on my hands, especially while Mommy is on nights (only one more week thank God!), I’m reading more. I started off with my usual genre of fantasy. You know elves, dwarves, wizards. Most books follow a fairly standard pattern, unlikely hero, extraordinary times, hidden powers discovered, save the world. Now there is a lot that can be done with it. There is magic or no magic. The anti-hero is always great. Nothing better than a surly, rude, battered mercenary captain being the “good” guy. Yet after a dozen books or so it got slightly boring and predictable.
I then decided to read some books that were a little “heavier”, not weight wise, but in content. I’ve always been an avid reader and have read quite a few of the books deemed classics. I’ve read Tolstoy, Dickens, Rand, and others but I felt that I could benefit from reading some more of the celebrated literature of the world. So I dove in with Utopia, and 1984. Both great books that have oddly poignant parallels to the times we now live in. Next came The Jungle, and The Grapes of Wrath. Again great books amazingly well written. I’d like to think l this reading will, by extension, improve my writing. Even if it doesn’t well then at least next time I’m at a fancy cocktail party (yeah right) I can discuss in knowing terms the classic written word with all the hipsters.
My latest novel is Sophie’s Choice. Again its well written, provocative, and generally great. It has helped me to a decision about classic literature….. It’s depressing. So far all the great novels of history that I’ve read have all been about terrible things. I do wish that some of these novels could be happy, or humorous, I’d even take a good satire. So I’m on a quest to find one. There has got to be at least one out there!
I may need to set aside my little dream of writing great novel. For starters I would need a subject. Not to mention time and ambition. Most importantly though, I don’t think I want to live through what seems to be needed to write one. I plan to keep reading and hopefully I’ll find an uplifting novel in the pantheon of classic lit.
Emmet is growing by leaps and bounds lately it seems. Since starting school he is much better with the other kids on the playground at night, and its only been three weeks. In the last five days he’s gone from timidly standing on the edges of the pool to diving and swimming ten to fifteen feet. He is growing like a weed. Since we arrived in January he’s outgrown one pair of shoes and is working hard on the second. Unfortunately his brain is growing just as fast as his feet. His reasoning skills have gotten much better. He has become fiercely independent. The most common phrase heard from him is “I don’t need help, I can do it all by myself!”. While these are all good things they bring with them some unforeseen baggage.
The checked bag of this growth luggage is memory. Gone are the blissful days of “If you behave the whole time we’re out maybe you can get something at the store before we go home” only to have the thought skitter out of his little brain and us not have to pay up. Oh no. Now if said carrot has been dangled it must be munched. Before leaving E will tug on your hand and give you doe eyes that any Disney animator would be proud of and say “Was I a good boy? Good enough for a treat?”. BOOM! Two prong attack, adorable and pathetic. That boy knows where his bread is buttered. Really what he’s thinking is “Listen fella you promised me something good and I held off the flailing tantrum in the cereal aisle. Now make good with the hotwheels”. It is with heavy heart and empty change purse I must let the day of the idle promise go.
The carry on parcel, handy, accessible, always ready for action is reasoning. Couple this with memory and it is a dangerous thing in the hands of a child. Your words are repeated to you. Complete with a face full of righteous indignation. And at appropriate times, that make you want to simultaneously crawl away slightly ashamed, toss the little bugger across the room, and congratulate him for already developing a scathing wit. The other morning Mommy was sitting on the couch doing a Sudoku (which I despise more than any other newspaper game). Emmet grabbed his colored pencils and asked if he could draw on the book too. The answer was along the lines of “This is Mommy’s game its not for kids” to which the reply was…
“You get to do it, then I do. That’s taking turns and that’s how you share Mommy”
Yeah, that just happened. He was using our words at a correct moment in an absolutely adorable/frustrating way. Then not even twenty four hours later it was my turn. If you read the last post you know I have had a little trouble with E listening to instructions and keeping up when we go places. I tend to have to repeat myself a few times to get his attention and get him to listen. Well apparently at least part of the lesson has sunk in. I was doing dishes and he asked me to get him some more juice. It was a polite request, I believe there was even a please used. I told him to give me a couple of minutes to finish the dishes and I would fill his cup. A few minutes passed and I wasn’t quite done when he asked a second time. So again I told E to give me a minute to finish. He went back to playing trains for a little while until a third time just as I was finished he asked for some juice. As I told him I was almost done and to give me a second he looked up at me with as stern a face as he could muster and said “How many times do I have to say the same the thing Daddy? Can. I. Please. Have. Some. Juice.”….Damn it kid. You got me.
0730….”Let’s get dressed”. Seems a simple statement. Calls forth a plan of action. It is an operation that happens every day, so inherent in the simple sentence is a litany of other actions. Go to your room, grab clothes, don’t forget the socks, fresh diaper, now we’re ready to go to school. For anyone not living under the thumb of a midget dictator with a limited vocabulary (also known as a toddler) it would be.
0735 “No really buddy its time to get dressed. There’s no need to scream it happens every morning.”
0745 “Do you need to use the potty before we put new pants on?……Oh you don’t but Teddy does?…..Sure Teddy can try.”
0805 “I know you are a big boy and can do buttons all by yourself, but can I help?”
0815 “Alright let’s get all our stuff and head to school”
Yes it really did just take forty five minutes to put on three articles of clothing. Now comes the most dreaded part of the day. Walking……anywhere. It is less than fifty yards from the bottom of the elevator to the front door of school. You would think that this would mean we could leave only five minutes before school starts and make it with time to spare. Oh no, not with pint sized Lewis and/or Clark walking with you.
0817 “No bud we go left not right, we’re going to school not the playground” “What are you going to do with all those rocks?” “No I don’t know where their rock friends live. Maybe we could put them back near the fountain and their friends will find them” “Must we touch every pole in the fence?”
0828….less than one hundred and fifty feet later..”Good job E, have fun at school. I’ll see you in a little bit”
0831 I get back to the apartment and commence trying to do dishes/laundry/sweep/maybe go the gym/shower before…
1030 “How was you’re day at school” to begin the walk home, which is much like to ordeal of getting there.
I have to say it is the one thing the frustrates me the most. He can be so slow! Unless there is something on the other end he knows he wants and you can keep it fresh in his mind. That is easier said than done. All those sticks, stones, blades of grass, errant breezes are very distracting. So we walk, very very slowly from place to place. I should be able to calm to down about it. We are usually not on a timeline. But I can’t. Having to say the same sentence over and over again kills me. Oh well, I guess its something both of us will have to get better at. Him keeping a pace that wouldn’t make a tortoise say “Hey what’s taking you so long?” and me on not getting as worked up about it.
I’ve said before I love to cook. I do. And being here with all kinds of new ingredients, especially ones so fresh, makes me very happy. But I detest baking. Baking and cooking are two completely different animals. When I make pasta sauce if I like garlic, more garlic goes in. Don’t have black olives? No problem, its still pasta sauce. Salt, pepper, oregano, and basil all to taste. Yes there are recipes but they are more like vague guidelines. Not so with baking. With baking there are strict rules. Ingredients must be weighed and measures precisely. Hell professional bakers don’t even call them recipes, they are formulas. Because in essence, good baking is not cooking, its chemistry. I am in no way anal retentive enough to be a good baker. There is, however, one exception to this in the baking world….bread. Bread is very forgiving. Water, yeast, flour, and salt are all you need for basic bread. Sugar may be added, and the ratios of salt/yeast/flour are fluid within a small window. Since I have a lot of time on my hands I decided to try to make bread. Its tastier than store bought, and cheaper.
Again though I didn’t factor the boy into my decision at first. I should have, knowing how much he likes to “help” me in the kitchen. Help, hinder, they both start with H right? He loves to help. To get in the way, get his hands dirty, and be part of producing the meals. Nine times out of ten I am all for him helping. This was one of those nine. I started getting the dough together and I heard behind me
“Whatcha doin Daddy?”.
“Making bread buddy”
“I’ll go get my stool, I need to help you”
And so began our odyssey in baking. We’ve so far made rolls, white bread, wheat bread, and challa bread. Emmet mixes the dough and helps me knead it. He thinks pounding and folding the dough is the most fun cooking thing he’s done so far. Coming in a very close second is punching the dough down after it has risen. On a trip to a culinary supply store a few days ago he even disappeared in the store only to come running around the corner with a tiny little Emmet sized rolling pin. He is very excited to help me make a pie crust for pork pies soon. Until he is old enough to wield a knife or peeler in support of our dinner I think our bread baking will be the kitchen task that he is able to do the most for. Good news is he loves it. From the bubbling yeast to the golden topped loaves that leave our little oven, my tiny sous chef helps. And he is proud of his work. When Mommy wakes up for dinner and comments on how good the house smells (because let’s face it does anything smell better in a house than fresh baked bread?) Emmet proudly proclaims “Me and Daddy made more bread!”. And that totally makes the extra time and cleanup worth it. Seeing him take ownership and pride in his part is awesome. Its only going to get better as he gets older and can help more. And its pretty awesome.
He’s pretty proud of himself in the kitchen. It sometimes takes a little imagination on my part to figure out what I can have him do and still be able to get dinner out in less than three hours. If its breakfast time he mixes eggs while I make hashbrowns. Lunch he is my go to guy for opening and then putting lids back on peanut butter and jelly. Dinners tend to be more difficult, but tearing lettuce for a salad is always a good standby. I encourage everyone to cook with a kid. If you don’t have one, borrow one. Its messy, and frustrating at times, and not going to be a five star affair, but seeing their little faces beam with accomplishment is very very cool.
Emmet is an awesome little amalgamation of the wife and I. He got his wonderful hazel eyes and temper from me. His cute little nose and thus far straight teeth are mom. The growling, fist slamming, and angry stare when told that yes it is bedtime are all me. However he got a little something else from mom too.
My wife once told me in jest “I’m not OCD it just has to be the same way every time”. Now to be fair my wife is not OCD. She has no ticks, not repeated actions, she is not hampered in her daily life. She is, however, a creature of habit. E is too. And when his routine is thrown off so is he. From what I understand from friends this does not make him unique in the world of toddlers. It seems the little darlings thrive on sameness. While our days tend to have little plan to them there are constants. Breakfast, get dressed, (now) go to school, pick him up, do something (there is the big variable), nap, make dinner, play, bedtime. That is our pattern. The monotony of parenting. Not that each day doesn’t have its own quirks and highlights. If it didn’t I would not have anything to write about. Today was a special deviation.
Mom tried to be nice. She had last night off so hadn’t gone to bed yet and decided to let me sleep in. Super sweet of her! But the gremlin apparently got wet. He couldn’t play his toy guitar because daddy was sleeping. Mommy made breakfast, not me. I woke to a tantrum just before time to leave for school. I was a upset and frustrated because it seems that this much whining and carrying on only happens when Mommy is home. Mommy walked him to school, usually its me or both of us. There was another meltdown at school. Needless to say she, as she should have, brought him home. While his preschool isn’t cheap, I’m sure his teachers don’t get paid enough to deal with the super freak out.
I’m almost positive it was a big combination of two things. First the break in routine. Even on her days off I am almost always up with him in the morning. Second, and more importantly I think, the fact that Mommy was there. I wrote before about how night shift sucks. I think this was another example of that. He doesn’t see her enough, or spend enough time with her. Not her fault, don’t misunderstand me, there is no blame attached to that statement it is just fact. Today’s apocalypse was probably seventy percent “I want Mommy time” and thirty percent routine based. Let’s hope we can settle into a “routine” of rotating mornings. I’d like to sleep in once in awhile!
I’m am not important. At least not this evening. Not to Emmet’s friends. I was accosted no less than three times between the gate to our complex and the elevator with imploring little faces asking “Where is Emmet?” only to see disappointment when I told them it would be another half hour before he came outside. I know this shouldn’t surprise me. Why on earth would I be important to various groups of four to ten year olds? There is no conceivable reason. I am, however, amazed at Emmet’s popularity. Especially since I see him as the guy who doesn’t want to share his toys, but wants to play with anything someone else brought. Maybe because I’m dad I’m always on the lookout for him to be playing fair and not being “that kid”. You know which kid I mean. Well you do if you are a parent and frequent a playgrounds. There is always the one kid nobody likes, not the parents, and not even the other children. There is always one, and I don’t want it to be E.
My fears seem to be unfounded, at least for now. As evidenced by the many requests for his presence he can’t entirely be the spoiled brat who ruins the playground for everyone. I try my best not to let him. I insist that he shares. Hell, we even brought down three matchbox cars tonight to make sure that he had some for his friends to send down the slides too. His friends always like chasing bubbles with him. Bubbles, I’ve found, are the world’s greatest playground equalizer. As long as there is an adult willing to be mobbed by the kids, bubbles are fun for every age. There is actually few things I have as much fun doing lately as waving the bubble wand and watching fifteen children scurry all about to catch and pop them before they fly away.
His two favorite people at the playground recently are a pair of sisters. They speak very good English for their ages ( which I guess and twelve and seven…..ish (I’m horrible at guessing ages) as it is their second language. They are Japanese, and their names are Momoka ( Moe Moe Kah ) and Kikome (Kick O May), and hopefully their parents aren’t followers of this blog because I am sure I just butchered the spellings there. They are adorable and so good with him. They remind me of another pair of girls, sister, who spent a lot of time with E back home. They always get very excited to see him, love to pick him up and hug him. And always try to include him in whatever game they are playing. They love to tousle his hair, and even sing his silly songs with him.
Even though it is incredibly hard not having our close friends and family close, It is really nice to find such great love and caring where we are. I also envy Emmet for this experience. I think having all these friends from different backgrounds so early in life will be one of the greatest gifts we could have given him. I know he misses home. I know he misses his family. But he loves the friends he is making, and I love watching him be happy and play. And I guess no matter where you are from or what language you speak, those sparkling hazel eyes just kind of get you!
Its odd what a three year old remembers. He remembers songs, and why I was upset with him yesterday. I was given quite the lecture this evening at bedtime how I shouldn’t get frustrated with him, he just didn’t hear me the first four times I said it was dinner time and he needed to put his trains away. Of course he remembers his grandparents. Memere and Pepere, Grandmaman and Pepere were big parts of every day for him. We still see them on Skype. Every time he sees me pull out the computer he wants to know who we are going to talk to. His aunts, uncles, and cousins regularly figure into his conversations with us. And of course close friends’ children(Abbye, Marissa, Sophie, Cruz, and Addie mostly) that he played with a lot become part of his playtime stories they all apparently like to ride Thomas the Tank Engine trains. More amazing though are the things he recalls from before we moved, and it shows what was important to him.
There were two particular instances this week that struck me as astounding recalls for such a young mind. The first happened at his preschool. While putting his shoes on after class I asked him if he had made any friends in class. Of course he said he had, but he faltered when I asked him their names. With a look of bewilderment he said “I don’t know daddy”. One of the boys was sitting next to him so I prompted E to ask his name. The boy answered Caiden. To which Emmet gravely replied “No you’re not. You’re not a cheerio”. Now for this to make sense we need to flash back to E’s life from six months to a little over the age of two. We were members of the local YMCA. They had a child watch service where for ninety minutes a day I could leave him and go workout on my days off. Another mom (who in an only in Rhode Island way was the daughter in law of a lady I used to work with, although I had not met her prior to the gym) was on the same relative time schedule as us and we would see them most days we were there. Her son was almost a year and a half older than Emmet. They became fast friends, his name was Caiden. And he called Emmet “his little cheerio”, and E called him “the big cheerio”, it was adorable. But Caiden got older and went to preschool, and my schedule changed. So for the six to eight months before we left we only saw him once or twice. But that friendship made an indelible mark on my boy. It floored me because it came out of no where. He had not talked about Caiden since before we left. Evidently though his friendship had made a large impression on E.
The second was today while watching a video on Youtube. It was cats being silly. E loves cats. There is even a big orange tom that lives in our complex that Emmet stops and pets every time we see him. Somewhere in the middle of the video was a gray tubby kitty. Emmet got very serious, and cried. Not a tantrum three year old cry, but genuine sadness. He missed Maggie, our kitty who could not make the move with us. She went to a good friends’ home, Abbye and Marissa’s home. But he looked up at me with a pained expression and we talked for a good twenty minutes about how we all missed her but she was in a good home and we could maybe visit her when we visit Rhode Island. It was heartbreaking. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this one, and I guess I’m not. But again he hadn’t mentioned Maggie since our move and it surprised me.
What other memories are hiding behind those little hazel eyes, waiting to ambush me. I’m sure they won’t all be sad, but it does scare me to think that there are more tearjerkers waiting. The only thing we can do for now is to focus on making good new memories. So they can come back to bite me in a few years.
I may never go to a normal grocery store again. At least not while we are here in Singapore. The major chain here, Fairprice, isn’t bad by any stretch. Its got a good selection. The prices are decent. Its relatively easy to get to. But as I’ve talked about before not having a car makes bringnig home a whole weeks’ worth of items difficult, to put it mildly. Part of the the fix for this is Redmart. Redmart is an online grocery and home goods outlet. Much like Stop and Shop’s peapod service it is delivered to your door. Unlike peapod though, no perishables. So until recently two or three days a week I must still drag E to the store to get our meats, veggies, milk, and eggs. Until recently.
Saturday, after dinner, at the playground (where I get most of my information and adult conversation) I was told about the “wet market”. Apparently just four or five blocks away there is a marketplace in the middle of a square of food vendors. So the next morning after breakfast Emmet and I went for a walk. I only had a vague notion of where I was going. I knew the general direction and a pretty good idea of the scene I was hoping to see. As we walked I kept seeing people walking the opposite direction from us carrying bags of meats, and fish, and vegetables. I knew we were headed the right way. The vision in my head could not have prepared me for what we found.
It was about ten thirty Sunday morning. At only eighty two degrees, it was actually mildly comfortable. And did I mention it was Sunday? Sunday is the day ninety nine percent of people have off, and I think most of the neighborhood was here. There was barely room to walk among the stalls, and I couldn’t hear E over the shouts from fishmongers, butchers, and vegetable dealers. Emmet didn’t like the noise. But he loved the sights and smells. He kept wanting to touch the herbs, and smell the spice blends. It was amazing. No less than four fish stalls, two selling chicken, two selling pork, one with beef, and more fruits and vegetable tables than I could count. We bought some pork belly, and tiger prawns. Each was thirteen dollars for a kilogram. Half the price of the supermarket!
Since that day I go about every other morning after dropping E off at school to get our meats and veggies. But on weekends he comes with me. He;s gotten used to the noise, or come to tolerate it in exchange for the smiles, pats on the head, and small candies from the old ladies. Its awesome! I walk over, and get my breakfast. Sometimes a pastry, sometimes a bowl of noodles…..for two bucks! I could buy a different fish every day for two weeks. Some I don’t recognize, but I’ll try them anyway. I’ve even mad friends with the herb lady. She always asks what I’m cooking today and gives her opinion on what I should use to flavor it. Today she had put aside some eggplants for me. When I approached her stall she smiled and reached under the counter to reveal three beautiful fresh Japanese eggplants and said “ I hoped you were coming today look what I have”…..sweet.
So like I said I may never set foot in the grocery store again. The market is too fresh, too exciting, too cheap, and too personal to give up. Now all I have to do is pick one of the fish vendors to make friends with!
Little blue shorts and a blue collared polo. LL Bean backpack with his name embroidered on it. His new cup with carrying strap over one shoulder. With jubilant hops he runs to the elevator to call it to our floor. Mom and Dad walking hesitantly behind him, he turns to beam that million dollar smile at us. The air inside the elevator is pulsing with his excitement. And seething with our apprehension barely contained. The five minute walk is the first one where E is hurrying us along instead of the usual situation of trying to get him not to stop and examine every ant, blade of grass, fence post, or stray cat along the way. Then we’re there, he is so happy and ready to go he barely has time to say goodbye before he’s off. I am quietly happy and nervous. The wife is sobbing tears of BSS (see previous post ). It is the much anticipated / dreaded first day of pre-school.
It is only two hours a day eight thirty to ten thirty. I have been eagerly awaiting this day since we started discussing it last month. Two whole hours to myself each day! I can go shopping in a timely fashion without saying no, bargaining to get moving, and restocking shelves from our carriage with things that mysteriously appear in it. I could actually have time to go to the gym, or swim some laps. I know have the opportunity to clean around the house without the first bit looking like I hadn’t touched it by the time I finish the last. Yet as I leave him at the door these all flee my mind and I am struck by my own bout of BSS. I don’t have the luxury of indulging it at the moment though because Mommy needs me to hold myself together so we don’t both make a seen. Its OK for Mommy, even expected. Daddy must put it away for awhile and deal with later.
The larger part of me is actually very happy. He needs this. Time to be away from Mom and Dad and be a little independent. Social interaction with other children his own age is essential, especially being an only child. I need this because (especially with Mommy working nights) the twenty four / seven Daddy-Emmet time while awesome can become overwhelming. It will be good for everyone. He gets to play, sing, and learn with others. They even do twenty minutes of early Mandarin introduction each day! How cool is that? But I can’t help but be a little lost as I spend my first morning at home without him.
Ninety percent of my anxiety is relieved when we go pick him up. He comes tumbling out of the door with the rest of his class, a huge smile splashed across his face. He talks the whole time we walked home. He was very exuberant about school and couldn’t wait to go tomorrow. Hopefully by then I’m just a normal happy Dad who takes advantage of his new found free time. He told us all about his day, how he had played with sea creatures, counted, and sang a song. Although he refused to sing the song for us. I was told “I can’t tell you Daddy its only for school singing and you don’t go to school.” Saucy little guy isn’t he?