Sandy

Jackson Heights

Hurricane Sandy hit us this week.

We have my father-in-law and sister-in-law staying with us as of last night.

I don’t know for how long.

Jackson Heights

They live in Rockaway and their house is a wreck. The ground floor was under water and they watched the water climb the stairs during the ‘surge’, pretty much terrified out of their minds. We had them on the phone at that moment. One sister-in-law lost everything. They both lost cars.

Rockaway

Trees are down in our neighborhood but we maintained power. Three cars were flattened by a beautiful old tree just outside our window down the block.

My father out on Long Island has been out of power also but he was inland so seems to be fine though he’s run out of cell phone power. He only turns it on to call me so I have no way of contacting him.

Nature is humbling and an angry mother nature even more so. We are so small compared to it.

Rockaway – A big Piece of the Boardwalk

I’ve spent the morning and afternoon writing and working at my son’s school. Mom-ita and I, along with a host of other parents, have been given a room to work from, showers if we want, coffee, breakfast, and lunch. We don’t have enough gas in the car to go home and come back so we’ve just staid here all day.

Rockaway

Lines for gas are quarter-mile and longer. I’ll have to get up at 4am tomorrow and see if I can beat the lines, otherwise we’re not going anywhere until it gets better.

My office is in Manhattan on 23rd street without power still so it’s closed.

Maybe on Monday.

In the mean time it’s a full house back at our apartment.

Pernicious Sarcophagus Suspect Tarantula

We play this game in the car a lot. One of M-itos friends taught it to us on vacation last year.

One person says a word, any word, and the next person has to come up with a word that begins with the last letter of the word that was said.

Is there a way to win? No. Not the way we play. So what’s the point? Well… it’s fun. Also we’ve come up with the following to add some spice to long car trips:

  1. try to use the biggest and most obscure words you can. Why say “end” when you can say ecstatic, or essential, or effervescent?
  2. try to stick the person who goes after you with the same letter each time. M-ito likes to end words with “y” or “k”. Hah. Even ending words in “e” can get challenging after a while.
  3. ask people to define a word if you think they don’t know what it means. For example, I recently used the word pernicious. Everyone knows it’s the sound that ‘nicious cats make.
  4. try to do this game only using the names of geographic places (cities, states, countries, mountains, rivers, anything that would appear on a map). Not as easy as it sounds, unless you have a map handy.

It used to be we’d play Who am I or I spy. I love that my son finds using words to be fun. I’m also just happy to have found another thing to do during downtime that doesn’t include the sound of electronic texting or app-tapping.

Difficult conversations, part 1 – Stranger Danger

So… I didn’t make up the stranger danger line, M-ito’s fourth grade teacher did and I just copied it. It has a certain zing though.

Anyway. This is the conversation we all need to have with our kids about adult strangers, private parts, and how the two should never meet. Of course Mom-ita and I realized we hadn’t had this conversation with M-ito about camp just about one hour into the trip… to camp. I know. I know. I’m a bad Dad-dito. Mom-ita and I realized this just about the same time (not that I’m a bad Dad-dito, but that we hadn’t had the stranger danger talk – work with me here). So we attempted to have this conversation as our son was just about holding on to his nerves knowing that he was going away for two weeks on his own to camp where he’d never been before.

What not to do:

  • Don’t bring this up on the car trip up to your son’s first sleep away camp. Otherwise… your son will drop his jaw and get a deer caught in the headlights expression on his face, followed by anger that’s expressed as, “You’re bringing this up NOW?”
  • See bullet one above. That’s really the only thing not to do.
  • Don’t bring up in detail the whole Penn State thing. It’s too complex. Don’t ask me how I know. I’ve done enough damage for one afternoon.

What to do:

  • Bring it up any time before the day of the trip to camp. A few days is probably better as a cushion.
  • Do tell him it’s not okay for anyone else to touch his private parts and make sure he knows (he’ll tell you, I know what you mean) what you mean.
  • Do tell him to get help from another adult at the camp immediately, if he can.
  • Do tell him to make noise and get away if he can.
  • Try not to make it seem like anything will be his fault.
  • Have these conversations with your child when he’s much younger so by the time he gets to the age of 10 and is going away to camp and rolls his eyes at you for bringing this up you know it’s okay because he’s been stranger danger talked to enough already. Then you can sleep well at night.
  • Prevention is protection.

A side note. When I brought this up with M-ito yesterday we talked about it a little more and it was okay. As long as I didn’t go on for more than 30 seconds, like I usually do. I actually stopped before my son said, “Dad-dito, that’s enough.”

In-school Bardo

BardoBuddhist term – an intermediate state. The term usually refers to the term between death and rebirth. The Wisdon of No Escape, Pema Chodron.

My son is in bardo – the place between comfort in his old school and his end destination of fitting in at his new one. I’ve heard a little through M-ito but mostly late at night or via phone calls while I was away in New Orleans and then Lansing Michigan – working. But the picture is pretty clear to me. My son is in bardo. It’s a hard place to be, but it’s a place of growth. My son doesn’t want to hear that, though. He just wants to be out of bardo and on the shore of fitting in.

M-ito made his first friend during his first week at school. He called them aquaintences up until then. He named his first friend, Jacito, a boy from the other 2nd grade class. They played tag together with some other boys. Tag is one of M-ito’s favorite games. He laughs when he plays and his laughter is a sound that makes you and anyone around you smile. I thought, from my hotel room, listening to Mom-ita tell me of his adventures, that things seemed to be moving along. The process of forming with a new group had begun. I had expected it to be rocky but so far so good.

After he made his first friend, he told Mom-ita that he waited for the other class to come out for recess the next day. He waited by the door. I have this picture of him waiting for the other class to come out. “Will they come out today?” he told me later  he wondered. “Are they out sick?” Two days a week the two classes did not have recess together. He learned this while waiting for them to come out. Then on Friday, M-ito’s friend changed the game of tag to bullfight tag. A different game – out of my son’s comfort zone. He was still in bardo. He didn’t want to play. I know some things about my son and one thing is he likes to have mastery over games he plays. He doesn’t like games that he thinks he’s not good at – especially games that he’ll look bad playing. Embarrasment is a big factor even for 7-year olds. I understand this.

He sat on the fence watching the kids for two days. Mom-ita didn’t know what to do but she waited it out. She bounced her ideas off of me but she knew in her heart what was right for her son. I listened and agreed with her. M-ito’s teacher came to Mom-ita at the end of the second day and said, “I’ve been watching and waiting too. Other kids have asked him to play games bu he’s saying no. I’m not going to let it go on much longer.” The next day she asked M-ito to sit by her so he wasn’t by himself again. Some kids asked him to play bull fight tag then and he said yes. This time he got the rules down and played better. Perhaps the choice of sitting next to the teacher, whom he seems to like, or playing tag pushed him to play. In any case it worked.

He’s played other types of tag since then and played soccer yesterday. He played goalie. He says it’s easy and he likes it – with a shrug. No one else wants to play goalie so he steps up. He found a place from which to participate. I give him a lot of credit. Bardo is not an easy place to be. It’s so much easier to stay in your comfort zone, so much harder to step off into a strange land.

As a father I have found the whole process to have a hint of the unreal about it. I’m experiencing much of it second hand – through Mom-ita. M-ito is close to her because she drives him in and picks him up. She is his lifeline to see at the end of the day. I am the guy he sees most evenings at 6pm – regular time, usually coming home while he’s in the middle of his homework. He doens’t ask me for help, that is Mom-ita’s domain. Even trying to make one day a week driving in with the two of them – it’s still hard to stay part of things. Drop-off happens so quick. Mostly, like so many Dad-ditos these days, I try to catch up on the weekend. You see, I’m in my own bardo too. I’m adjusting to change and allowing this new aspect of our relationship to grow also. It sounds good on paper but it sure is hard to do.

First Day of School

Who’s more scared? Parents or kids? At a new school for the third time in my child’s life I think it might be a tie. Mom-ita and I drove M-ito to his first day of school last week and I took two days off to be there for the whole first day and for the one hour intro to school the day before. The commute was fine, not to much traffic, but lots of nervousness in the back seat and the front.

Mom-ita cried and I found tears coming to my eyes also as we gave him a hug before he was lead off to his classroom. M-ito’s first day was well planned out by the school he’s going to. They welcomed new students by name, with a handshake and gift from an upper classperson, in a morning assembly that all parents were invited to. We ate lunch with our kids then took off and did some food shopping while we waited. It was something to do. It was a day of waiting and of reflecting and shopping was a nice concrete something to do. We had about four hours to wait – on and off during – that first day in between meeting his teacher, seeing his classroom, being told by school administrative staff and the headmaster that “everything will be okay,” over and over again. Sure – easy for them to say.

I was surprised at how strongly I felt about sending him to school. This was truly the summer of transition from one school to another, from one set of friends to another, and for us as parents from one set of parents whose kids M-ito knows, to another. We are in the midst of meeting all these new parents, just as M-ito is in the midst of meeting all these new kids. Each of us is having to manage new relationships like crazy. I have to put my hand and my “self” out a lot. I have to say hello and introduce myself, try to remember which kids are which and which go with which parents. Mom-ita has been doing it all summer and I’m still catching up. Now I’m putting faces to names I’ve heard and trying assign kids to them.

What has caught me a little more by surprise than these difficulties is how watching my son go to school has reminded me of my own going to school when I was his age. It has brought up deep feelings of loss and sadness for what was. I changed schools and homes when I was going into fourth grade, M-ito is changing schools in 2nd. I remember leaving people behind and meeting new kids, best friends-to-be, none of which I’m still in touch with or becuase they have died long ago. I remember getting a new father and house to live in. I can feel this viscerally, in the tingling in my fingers as I type away. What a mix. Seeing this kind of history spread out in front of my son overwhelms me. But it’s my past not his.

At lunch after the assembly my son came over to me, so that Mom-ita wouldn’t be able to hear, and said, “I want to go home.”

I looked at him with my heart breaking. “Can you last for a few more hours?” I asked him, looking deeply into those brown eyes of his.

“How many hours is that?” he asked.

“Two.”

Then he nodded and hugged me. I didn’t tell Mom-ita about this until later.

When we came back to pick him up at three o’clock he was happy and seemed fine. He’d had science last period and he loves science and so his whole experience was framed by what he did there. His teacher had told them to pick a kind of scientist they would like to be – M-ito said paleontologist, of course – and to draw a picture of one on the front cover of their science notebook.

From the back seat of the car M-ito said, “I tried to be small in the class, but they wouldn’t let me be.” Mom-ita smiled while I drove. In his last school M-ito could “be small” and not noticed – not get attention – if he was quiet and followed the rules. He could “dissapear” if he wanted to – which I think he did a lot. In this school they introduced the kids to each other, asked them to play games with each other in recess (stopping cliques from arising – or at least attempting to) and seemed to try and notice what kids were doing and not doing. Small classes, good teachers. So far so good. But it meant that M-ito had to be more social than he was used to being. He is a shy kid who takes time to warm up. He must have been exhausted from all that kind of work. I know I was. I said hello and shook many hands in the parent meetings, at the coffee shop where I saw more of the same parents hanging out – just like us – and when we picked M-ito up. I had to force myself. I learned new names and forget them all within a matter of moments. Still, it’s part of the job of a parent. At 47 I have to tell you it’s not easy to go out and make new friends. I don’t necessarily want to put in that kind of effort but it comes with the territory. I guess I like to “be small” too.

After not talking about school for a few hours – even though we pestered M-ito left and right about what he did, at dinner time he finally gave us the whole run-down.

His second day I went to work with a knot in my stomach.

It’s his third day today, this beautiful Monday morning, and his first whole week of school. I’m doing my deep breathing exercises, trying to stay present, and not slip into the past. Mom-ita and M-ito left 45 minutes ago. I’m heading out too. I find I have to remind myself, this is his school experience, not mine. And this is my parenting experience, not his. The idea, I think, is to try to keep things that way. The challenge is in making it so.

Prioritizing

We were in the car, late for going to Pop-pops house (and Pop-pop is on top of the time element so we’re feeling the pressure). I was driving. Mom-ita was angry with us because we took so long to clean up after ourselves in the morning. First I did my yoga, then there was the game with M-ito we had to play, we got dressed, had breakfast, and finally, while Mom-ita was running around trying to get ready to leave, we picked up toys and put some of them away.

“The two of you,” Mom-ita began. “What were you doing all morning? We needed to get out of the house and the both of you were dilly-dallying and not doing anything.”

I looked back at M-ito and shrugged. Then I nodded at Mom-ita and went back to watching the road.

“You weren’t prioritizing what had to be done first.”

“Mom-ita, I was too!” M-ito shouted from the back seat. “I was too … even though I don’t even know what that means.”

Mom-ita stopped in mid-thought and looked at me. Then all three of us laughed.

A while later M-ito asked, “So what does prioritizing mean?”

A Patch of Forest

We’re in the car on our way back from the beach out at Orient Point. The state park at the end of the island is beautiful, kid friendly, and one of our favorite places to go as a family. It’s a three hour trip, usually with a stop on the way for coffee/tea. Then we eat and spend the afternoon on the beach, playing at the three playgrounds, swimming in the calm waters if the water’s warm enough (it’s not … yet) and hiking on a nature trail. What a beautiful day today was too and our first time out to Orient this year. By the time we get to Riverhead, I’m stoked on green tea to keep me awake and the sun is just starting to set.

M-ito pipes in from the back seat. “When all three of us have jobs and we’ve got a lot of money we can buy a patch of forest somewhere and live there. Or maybe two trees, big ones. Or … we could buy a log for the gerbils. They would like that.”

“Do we all have to work?” Mom-ita asks from next to me in the front seat.

“Yes,” M-ito replies. “Unless you don’t want to. Then it’s okay. Dad-dito and I can work.”

I nod and hit the accelerator as we climb up the LIE ramp and face into the setting sun.