Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Life is Never Like This

I was reading the New York Times last week, and I stumbled across this ad from Canon:

And I just thought, Whoa! They've discovered my secret life. Really, I'm sitting at home everyday, while Liam quietly plays on the floor. Kalian bounces on my lap while I sip some coffee. And all the while I'm free to get some work done on the computer. The Secret is OUT! Isn't this what's it's like for all stay at home parents with two kids?

Thank you, Canon. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's beginning to look...nothing like Christmas!

One day after Xmas, all is merry, all is bright. This holiday was different for us, than in years past, for many reasons. The most obvious is that we find ourselves three time zones away from home. Oddly enough, we're getting just the kind of weather we'd expect if we were back in Oakland: moist, chilly, unpleasant. But no snow! I'm not sure weather to sing Hallelujah! for the mild winter, or ask for my money back. The area has experienced record temperatures all month, and now the debate has turned to weather there will be any significant snow this winter.

But back to Christmas, the truly big change was our financial picture. With zero income, and substantial debt piling up, we decided to forgo the usual orgy of present giving. We told family members a couple months ago not to send us anything, and that we would not be sending anything. What little money we had, we planned to save for travel.

I was a little bummed, at first, about the prospect. No matter what anyone says, Christmas memories have always centered around that mad tearing open of wrapping paper Christmas morn. But, as the month wore on, I began to feel, well, liberated. As I chatted and emailed with friends out here, they inevitably were talking about how stressed they were, dashing to the store every day, rushing to the post office, stressing about the money. And it occurred to me, "Oh yeah, I don't have to worry about that this year." What a relief it was.

By coincidence, the New York Times ran a column along the same lines on Dec. 16:

BASIC INSTINCTS; Skip the Stress And Donate To Charities
EVERY year during the holidays, you hear the same old shop-worn advice for avoiding financial stress. Set a strict spending limit for each person and stick to it; plan ahead so you do not shop impulsively; coax your family into a modest exchange of gifts; hunt for bargains online, and so forth.

Here's a radical suggestion: how about a gift-free holiday season?

Some people will always revel in the spirit of receiving and spending that descends this time of year. But many others are fed up with dashing through the mall, spending more money than they have on loads of stuff other people may or may not need or want.

Sorry to put it so bluntly, but when I hear that shoppers spent over $18 billion the weekend after Thanksgiving alone -- a small slice of all holiday sales -- and that the average consumer takes three to six months to recover from her holiday spending hangover, I wonder if anyone is connecting the dots.

The article continues:

Patricia Danser, who runs a private animal sanctuary in Deming, N.M., says that she and her husband have done a number of things to ''avoid the massive materialistic frenzy of the holidays'' -- including delivering presents to children in a nearby Mexican town and donating money in honor of friends and family to an organization that protects manatees.

Ms. Danser does not see her efforts as a way to cut costs, but it does make her happier to know that the money she spends will do some good in the world.

GIFT giving has become such an entrenched part of the holidays that many people are reluctant to suggest alternative ways to celebrate, for fear of appearing Scrooge-like. Sheri Schmidt, a lecturer on racial studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says ''it took a bit of bravery and persistence to break the cycle of obligatory gift giving'' in her family. But when she finally suggested a moratorium on holiday gifts to her three brothers, ''they were so relieved,'' she said.

For the last few years, Ms. Schmidt and her family have given presents to six needy children, in lieu of their six more affluent nieces and nephews. It is not that they spend any less money, she says, ''but we have so much fun picking out the toys for those kids, knowing what a difference it will make to their Christmas morning.''

Indeed, it will be hard to go back next year. Instead, it's easier to imagine going further away from it. Yes, the kids will make it tougher. But on the other hand, Liam was just as excited this year that we gave him a floor puzzle and spent three hours building a fire truck from an erector set as he was about anything else under the tree. So, maybe it won't be as hard as I think.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Yeah, we shoot!"

I took Liam to preschool the other day as usual. We got there a bit late and many of his friends were already there. He saw a boy he has become particularly friendly with and ran up to him. This was when I first saw a new game they had invented:

"Yeah, we shoot!"

Liam and the other boy ran into the corner and each grabbed two, long cardboard cylinders that slid all the way over their arms. Then they started pointing their arms at each other and yelling, "Yeah, we shoot!" The scene filled me all sorts of feelings that all seemed to be in conflict.

Liam has had a challenging time connecting with the other kids in his class. In part, he's just the new guy. And then there's his speech challenges, which can make it tough at times. So on one level, it was great that he seemed to have this connection with this other boy, that they invented their own game, and they really seemed to have bonded over it.

But did it have to be guns? As I talk to other parents and teachers out here about it, they are probably right in pointing out that this sort of thing is just part of being a four year old boy. In the past few months, Liam has suddenly become interested in things like superheroes (Superman! Spiderman!) even though those things are never in our house. Okay, I watched Superman Returns one night after he went to bed, but still...

Earlier this week, Liam had a play date at this same boys house. Now don't get me wrong. This is a wonderful little boy. And Liam is clearly quite fond of him. The boy's nanny occasionally hosts this "boys play dates" at their house. The boys from Liam's preschool room go and play trucks, firefighters, and construction. Liam couldn't be happier. Still, I went to pick up Liam at the end, and he was standing on a mound of dirt with this other boy. The boy was digging away with a shovel. Liam had a shovel in one hand, and a toy sword in the other. I'm not sure he knew exactly what it was, because I think he thought it was some sort of construction tool. And yet, part of me couldn't help but be a pit, well depressed.

I had no illusion that I would shield him from guns and swords and all that stuff for his entire life. At the same time, it's made me appreciate our little Oakland-Berkeley hippie cocoon that we live in. Both Liam's former preschool, but also our general group of friends and community. I feel confident in saying that I can't picture the kids and families we knew letting their kids play with that stuff. Again, that's not a judgment against the folks here. It's just to say, I guess, that I realize more than ever how fortunate we were with our friends back home.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Candlestick bowling

We had our first sub-artic chill today. So what better to do than to take the kids bowling? Why, take them candlestick bowling. In a past life, I was an avid and above-average ten pin bowler. But I have fond memories of visiting Boston as a kids and being taken candlestick bowling.

For the unitiated, candlestick bowling uses a ball about the size of a shot put. You get three balls each frame. And the pins are straight, rather than the pear shape of ten pin bowling.

In any case, I found a small, 15-lane bowling alley in somerville and trucked the kids over. Liam loved it. Even Kalian rolled a couple balls (with dads help). Liam came home and wanted to play bowling the rest of the night.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Liam's therapy...

Today was a tough day. And long. We had two big meetings related to Liam's therapy.

Liam stayed home from preschool today because he had an appointment with a speech therapist who is a renowned expert in stuttering, of "dysfluency," as it's called clinically. His stuttering has been up and down of late. But he continues to be a trooper about all of it. Still, at times he grimaces, purses his lips, and really works to get a simple sound out. While many therapists say it's typical for kids to go through periods of developmental "dysfluency," the grimacing and such things are usually considered signs of a more serious problem.

We drove about 20 minutes out to Lexington. Liam was his usual, upbeat self, excited that someone wants to play with him. The therapist played with Liam for about 45 minutes while videotaping the session. She didn't offer any conclusions at the meeting, but instead will meet with Jen and I in a couple weeks to go over her evaluation and her therapy recommendations.

In the meantime, we had Liam's "IEP" meeting with the Cambridge schools officials. The Indvidualized Educational Program is a bureaucratic way of saying "therapy program." As many of you know, about two years ago, Liam was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder and oral apraxia. In a nutshell, while Liam is smart, he has trouble processing and regulating his sensory intake and output. The result is that he had a hard time learning to speak, he remains somewhat challenged when it comes to things like running and climbing, and finds it a struggle to fit in socially because it's hard to keep up with his peers.

We'd been pretty optimistic for the past year or so with his progress. But he seems to have regressed a bit since he's been out here. His preschool is a tough environment for him because his classroom is big and loud and most of the kids are a bit older than his previous preschool in Berkeley. He reacts by withdrawing. His teachers have been great, but still...

And so he's been getting speech and occupational therapy through the Cambridge public schools. Except about 6 weeks ago his speech therapist had to take a leave of absence and they've not found a replacement yet. But they proceeded with their annual evaluation, the IEP, anyway. And no matter how positive they try to be, or how optimistic, it's a difficult thing to sit through. In essence, they run through long lists of things that Liam has a hard time doing, in often great detail.

In many cases, parents go to these meetings and find themselves fighting to get services. In our case, they concluded that Liam's challenges were so great, they increased their recommendation for the amount of therapy he is eligible for. And along with speech and occupational therapists, they assigned a third person to work with him, essentially a socialization expert to help him learn how to interact with kids.

All these folks were very well meaning, and we think they will be a tremendous help to Liam over the next six months that we are here. Still, it's hard not be discouraged when confronted with such an extensive breakdown of his issues. And it's at times like this that I miss our community of friends in the Bay Area more than ever.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh Mickey, you're so fine...

We had a wonderful visitor from the West Coast this past weekend. And it gave me a glimpse of how life here could be so different.

Mickey Ellinger arrived on our doorstep last Friday, fresh from a red eye from Oakland. Among the many wonderful things that happened to us after Liam was born four years ago, Mickey became an important force in our lives. For those who don't know of this magical being, Mickey has held a Friday night sleep over for the kids of various friends for many years now. During the past couple years, Liam has spent the night at Mickey's for the majority of Friday nights, bonding tightly with the handful of other kids who stay over. There are many things we miss about the Bay Area, and this ranks right up there.

So Mickey tumbled in Friday morning and Liam was ecstatic and could barely contain himself. Here he is just a few minutes after Mickey arrived:



Jen took Mickey that afternoon to see Stephen Colbert speak at Harvard. The next day, I had to do some work at Kalian's Coop. Jen and Mickey took the kids for a hike and then we met at a playspace for a birthday for one of Liam's classmates. We came back that afternoon and were all playing and I literally started to fall asleep while playing with Liam. Mickey tapped me on the shoulder and said the words that I have fantasized about everyday for the past five months: "Why don't you go take a nap and I'll play with the kids?"

So I did. I woke up when Jen came home. Thanks to Mickey, once again, we were having a big date night. The Kennedy School had its formal and Mickey was watching the kids for us. We had a big tapas dinner and then dressed in our finest went and partied at the Harvard Faculty Club. It felt very elitist and patrician and high school prom-ish all that once.

The next day, Mickey and I took the kids on the T into Boston. And boy, what a difference an extra adult makes. As I wrote before, I'm proud that I've taken the kids on so many outings. But I've avoided things like the train because it becomes so stressful handling the two kids, a stroller, etc. But it was a breeze with Mickey. We went to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace, walked over to the docks, and then wandered back to Quincy Market for lunch. I had done a similar outing on my own over the summer and it left me so traumatized that I've avoided the trains with both kids ever since. But this time, we had a ball, it was quite enjoyable.

Mickey took off that night, and we missed her immediately.

Monday, December 04, 2006


We had a little of the white stuff this morning, as predicted. For me, it was one of those wonderful parent moments. While we were all getting dressed, Liam looked out the window, got a big smile on his face, and said, "Hey, it's snowing."

Both he and Kalian couldn't wait to get outside. And in the car this morning, he couldn't stop talking about it and asking questions. It was one of those pure moments of wonder that makes you see the world through your child's eyes.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Let it snow...

The moment I told Bay Area folks back in May that we were headed to Cambridge, the first reaction I usually got was something snarky about how cold it would be. I'll admit to being a bit, well, concerned about how I'd hold up and whether I'd be wimpering like a little puppy at the first freeze.

Well, the first snow is reportedly about to commence over night. But I can't complain. The weather thus far has been glorious. How wonderful? Consider this story from Friday's Boston Globe:

"Not long before Boston officials lit the city's Christmas tree in an annual seasonal rite, the area broke a 125-year-old record for the high temperature for the date yesterday when the mercury hit 69 degrees at 1:43 p.m."

Yowza! I've been out riding the bike, carting the kids around in the bike trailer, and basking in some sublime, "crisp", New England days. All that ends tonight, I fear. But it's lasted far long than I would have expected. So I'll refrain from whining about the cold. For awhile.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kids Coop Cambridge

A big part of my life in Cambridge since September has the Kids Cambridge Coop. We heard about it while we were still in Oakland, and got a spot off the waiting list in August. It's been an incredible experience that, of course, also has had its share of frustrating moments.

The Coop is a true coop. It is run by the 15 families who are members. There is no full time staff, or director. Everyone gets to send their kid three mornings each week, from 9 a.m. to noon. As a member, you work one of those mornings as a caregiver, taking turns either bringing a snack, planning a craft, or cleaning the space. Each day, there are 10 to 12 kids there, with ages ranging from 15 months to 3.5 years. It's given me immense respect and insight into the lives of people who do this kind of work for a living.

In addition to working once a week, every member has a job. My job is to be a member of the coop's board and its secretary, which means I take the minutes for each monthly meeting. Fitting, I guess, given my background, though the jobs are more or less randomly assigned. Since every decision either needs to be made by consensus, majority, or two-thirds vote, depending on the topic, the meetings can often be a tribute to the excesses of democracy. After three hours debating whether CPR training should be mandatory or voluntary, I was longing for a dictator to make swift decisions for me.

The coop is located in the basement of the St. James Church, a big sprawling space that dominates Porter Square, about 5 minutes drive from out apartment. Now at this point, I'm going to show you a little video I shot of the space, I'm still trying to learn how to do this, so bear with me if it doesn't work. Feel free to shout at me, or give me a feedback. I've tried YouTube, but the quality is crummy. So I'm trying it on my own.

In any case, here's a little tour of the space:



So there it is. We spend the first two hours in there, doing free play, then a snack, circle time, craft. And then march outside to a playground behind the church for the last hour. I'm usually totally exhausted by the end of the day. And on a purely economic basis, Coop probably doesn't make a lot of sense. If all goes according to plan, I get about 5.5 hours of free time each week. When I add up the time I spend attending meetings, writing up minutes, working at coop, well, I'm sure I could hire someone to watch Kalian a couple mornings each week.

On the other hand, at least this way, we're not spending any money on daycare. And on the plus side of the ledger, the Coop folks are a wonderful community. Without stereotyping, they are probably a lot closer in spirit and outlook (and economic status) to our friends back in the Bay Area. Not Berkeley crunchy, but certainly at a different spot along the spectrum from the folks who we've met through Liam's elite preschool. (Though those folks are wonderful, too.)

Beyond that, it's been a great thing for Kalian. She is at that age where she is just starting to play with other kids. Most of her life has been being dragged around to hang with kids that her brother plays with. But Coop is her thing, and her friends. And it's unbelievably cute to see some of the younger kids, who are just learning to talk, shouting her name across the room or playground: Kay-nan! Kay-nan!

Here's a clip (probably too long) of Kalian playing with her friend, Freya:



As for me, I've learned quite a bit about the kids, and myself. Getting 12 kids to sit still for 10 minutes of circle time ("Heads, shoulders, knees and toes...knees and toes, etc.") can be a Herculean task. And when you succeed, it feels like an epic achievement, even if it is just a small triumph in the scheme of life.

This may be the only time in my life when I have opportunity to do something like this with the kids (unless that Lotto ticket pays off). So for now, I'm going to cherish it.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I'm worried that I may be falling into the trap that I had hoped to avoid when we came out here this summer. Namely, letting myself be seduced into non-kid work projects. When I would tell folks that I was taking a year off from being a reporter, their immediate reaction would be, "Oh, are going to do some freelancing?" This made me bristle, because the implication seemed to be that staying at home with two kids wouldn't be enough to occupy me, or be a worthy enough endeavor.

Given the way things went this summer, I'm glad that I avoided career-related work. As some of you know, I was a finalist for a journalism fellowship. And while I was disappointed not to get it, I can't imagine life out here if Jen and I had both been in school full-time together. The transition was tough enough the kids, especially with Liam missing his friends, and us missing out community. But if the kids had been stuck in a new place AND been in full-time school/daycare this fall, I think it would have been a truly miserable experience for them, and for us.

In general, I've been trying to focus my energy on being present, and calm with the kiddies. And really trying to celebrate this incredible time I've been given with them. It is a time and opportunity I may never have again, as frustrating as it can be sometimes. And it's made me realize that as involved as I tried to be back in Oakland, working outside the house full-time meant that I missed so many great moments in their lives. This is my chance to do things like working in day care coop with Kalian, learning how to keep the house running, getting dinner on the table, keeping the floors picked up.

But the mind is never still. In my quiet moments, I've found myself contemplating the various directions my career could take when I resume it, whenever I resume it. For now, I've been writing a column once a week for the San Jose Mercury News about Silicon Valley insiders selling stock. I've started keeping track of the columns here.

Beyond that, there's an idea for a business-related blog that I've been mulling over. And the Nieman conference inspired me to focus on writing. There are the ever-present book idea floating around. And now, I've improbably volunteered to write a grant for The Chronicle, the college newspaper where I had worked at Duke University. The latter is manageable, I hope, and something that has been stuck in my mind ever since I attended a Chronicle alumni event in Durham, N.C. in mid-October. An idea struck me, that I haven't been able to shake, and so I've jumped right in. With the Chronicle possibly building a new home, the question is: What should a newsroom built for the next 50 years of journalism look like? It's a great opportunity for Duke and The Chronicle, and hopefully the funding will work out.

The problem is that these become the things that are foremost in my mind, rather than the kids. That if I'm obsessed about writing a blog posting, or grant, or book proposal, and I become attached to things like needing Kalian to nap at a certain time, or Liam to do something in a particular way so I can get "work" done, then I'm just creating more tension and stress for them.

And I don't really need to be reminded how much they need my attention right now. I spent an hour today answering questions from yet another caseworker who wanted to take a history of Liam's developmental issues. All stuff we've answered a hundred times, but everyone insists on doing their own history. She was part of the new team at Cambridge schools who are reassessing Liam's therapy needs. We have a formal meeting with that group next week, on the same day Liam is seeing a stuttering expert for an evaluation. He's also got a vision screening, hearing check, and a neurology exam all coming up in December. With all that coming down the pike at him, he certainly doesn't need me adding my stress over "work" stuff to his life.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The 2-for-1 Special

If there's something that I feel really good about, it's the amount of stuff that Liam, Kalian and I have gotten out and done and seen since we got to Cambridge. Over the summer, that impulse was driven by necessity. The apartment was just too small to hold us all day. On the other had, there is a huge amount of stress in venturing out when it's me and the two of them.

Liam wants to run in every direction at once. And his sensory issues can make it hard for him to hear me, or respond, especially if it's a loud place like a museum. Then there's Kalian, who because she is diaper free, I have to ask if she has to go pee-pee every five minutes, or drag her to a bathroom. And that can be a challenge with Liam, who can take a long time to persuade to do anything. Throw in the fact that we're in a strange place, don't know our way around, and the parking/driving is crazy, and there are a number of reasons never to leave the house.

Still, we got in a good groove, and got out just about everyday. Post Labor Day, there's less pressure to do that. Liam is in preschool five mornings; Kalian is at her day care coop three mornings. So that leaves just the weekends as a total blank slate for me to fill. And so I've been taking them on a fewer outings on our own this fall, in part to cut myself some slack.

But Friday I was feeling restless. It was a beautiful day, unlike Thanksgiving. Temperatures in the low 50s. Sunny. No wind. So I threw Liam and Kalian in the bike trailer and rode over to the MIT Tech Museum. It's a small museum, and there was almost no one there. But there was plenty to interest both kiddies, and it was one of those days that was almost perfect. Almost.

We spent most of the morning in a robot exhibit, which had several robots on display and video clips explaining their history. Who knows how much Liam really understood, but he was totally transfixed. He was asking lots of questions. And laughing hysterically at some of the robot videos. I'll have to post some audio of this, because he's developed quite a belly laugh. And then he sort of took over the room, introducing himself to everyone, and explaining robots to them. It's really great that despite all his struggles to communicate, he is still generally such a happy and social guy.

We moved into the next room which was filled with "kinetic sculptures." I forget the artist's name, but he makes a series of small machines which are fairly complex yet elegant, and perform one task over and over. For example, there was one called oil machine which was simply two cogs and a bike chain that turned a small scoop around. The structure was in a pool of oil. When the scoop got to the bottom, it would fill with oil, and when it got to the top, it would dump the oil over itself, keeping the whole machine lubricated. I think Liam watched this for about 20 minutes.

After lunch, we walked over to another MIT building where they were holding their annual "Friday After Thanksgiving" event. Talk about major nerd fest. Basically, it's a semi-competitive event where a bunch of people build "chain reaction" devices out of everything from Legos to wood to any household items they can grab. Each of these is a kind of variation on the game "Mousetrap." The marble rolls down a trench and knocks over a block, which starts another marble rolling, which trips a wire, etc. Except there might be 30 different events in each chain reaction.

Anyways, it was highly entertaining. Even better, though, they had a bunch of chain reaction type stuff on the side for kids to play with. Liam spent an hour lining up dozens of dominoes and then knocking them over.

It was too much fun, and we stayed way too long. I had to drag Liam kicking and screaming out of the place. As I tried to get him and Kalian into the bike trailer, everything fell apart. Kalian peed in her pants. And Liam jumped on a nearby John Deere ATV and wouldn't respond even after I called his name a dozen times. I began tapping him on his bike helmet to get his attention, Liam lost his balance and smacked his face on the dashboard and got a bloody nose. I felt horrible and Liam, in a very meek voice, just looked at me later and said, "Daddy, don't make me cry" as a tear fell down his cheek. Ow. It seems like no matter how perfect the day is, it's hard to get all the way through without one breakdown. I wonder if any parent ever gets to that point?

In any case, they were asleep when I got home and I let them nap for a bit. It gets dark so early here that rousing them from late naps can take an hour. After Kalian went to bed, the rest of us had movie night, and watched Toy Story. A nice ending to an almost perfect day.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Today was an all too rare family day for us. Jen set aside her work and, of course, had no classes. Although she was feeling under the weather, she had suggested that we drive down to Plymouth to attend the "National Day Of Mourning." For those not familiar, it's a remembrance held every Thanksgiving by Native Americans to recognize what was done to them, and their continued struggles to preserve their culture.

It seemed appropriate and interesting, and so we loaded the kiddies in the car to head down to Plymouth, about a 40 minute drive on a good day. Except it wasn't a good day. It was miserable day. Rain poured down in sheets. I had to keep the car under 40 MPH. And along the way, I suffered one of those inexplicable brain glitches that switches off my common sense processor. Had it been functioning correctly, my brain would have told me: "Stop. This is a mistake. It's freezing rain outside. Turn around. Go home. Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV."

Instead, we pressed on, carrying a week's worth of clothes that still proved totally inappropriate. If nothing else, I got a stiff lesson that I need to do more to prepare for the coming winter. I can't complain about the weather, because it's been mild. But this weekend, I'm going to target or REI or someplace and buying every piece of water-proof, winterized piece of clothing they have.

When we arrived in Plymouth, the rain was coming down horizontal. Kalian gave us a look of horror. Liam, clinging to his plastic firefighter helmet for dear life, kept whimpering, "I want to go home." Naturally, we arrived 90 minutes before the ceremony started. We found the only coffee shop open in town and huddled there for some warm drinks, and a sanity check. The placed closed at noon, so we grabbed the kiddies, bundled up, and dashed three blocks over for the ceremony overlooking Plymouth Rock. We stayed about 2 minutes, ran back to the car, and drove three blocks to the First Calvary Church where the procession would march for some speeches.

I must admit, though I'm not the political one in the family, the speeches were powerful. And there was no small irony to the location. Several speakers noted that the Church was the one built by the Pilgrims. And indeed, the giant stained glass window behind the Native American speakers was a portrait of several Pilgrims. We sat, drenched, for about 90 minutes, listening to several rousing speeches. Then we packed the kids back in the car and drove 45 miles and a universe away, to a friend's house in Newton.

Actually, it was the house where he grew up. And for those who haven't been to Newton, its one of the more upscale neighborhoods in the Boston area. His parents' house was a spectacular maze of rooms that required a map. They served us a wonderful meal and we had time to catch up with friends, and meet make some new acquaintances. In all, a lovely end to difficult day.

Now comes the long weekend. Three days, and no Jen. She'll be working. No playdates scheduled. Crummy weather. In my role as childhood cruise director, I now must scramble to fill my children's day, less they kill each other.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Girl's (and boy) Night Out

Since assuming the mantle of stay at home dad back in July, I've had ample time to contemplate the intertwined issues of gender and parenthood. Being the rare stay at home dad has meant countless situations where I'm the sole male in the room. Back in the summer, when I was desperately trying to find playmates for Liam and Kalian, I'd be sizing up all the nannies and moms on the playground for potential compatibility, but not in the usual way. The only attributes I cared about was age of kid, schedule, nap time, etc. Not the usual measurements.

Jen and I used to half-kid about me cruising the playgrounds "picking up" nannies and moms, with the goal of scoring a playdate. There is a movie out at the moment called "Little Children," that apparently revolves around the politics of moms on the playgrounds and stars Kate Winslet. Though it's supposed to be excellent, I also suspect that it hits a little too close to home (takes place in a nearby suburb, in fact), and so it may take awhile for me to get around to seeing it.

Here's a sample of the Boston Globe review:

Much of Todd Field's choice new comic drama ``Little Children " concerns an affair between two young married people languishing in a mostly white Massachusetts suburb. Sarah (Kate Winslet) is a harried stay-at-home mom. Brad (Patrick Wilson) is her extremely handsome paternal counterpart. (She's a failed academic. He can't pass the bar exam.) They meet on a playground, after a trio of Brad-brained mothers dares Sarah to get his phone number.

The timing is good since he's feeling increasingly worthless at home. His knockout wife (Jennifer Connelly) makes successful documentaries and favors their son over Brad.

What ``Little Children" understands so well, and so poignantly, is a kind of parental existentialism that hits 30- somethings with kids: How does having children make you such a less interesting adult?

Yikes. Wife makes documentaries? Less interesting adult? Uh, that's not likely to be on the list for date night anytime soon.

Of course, the whole past six months have found me often being the lone male in a sea of moms. Jen's grad program had a summer program of events for spouses, since their partners were likely to be grinding away16 hours a day, seven days a week. They would rent a Greyhound-type bus twice a week and takes us on various outings to places like the aquarium, the kids' museums, Boston Common, etc. Inevitably, it was a busload of moms --- and me, trying to wrangle a rowdy 3.5 year old and a 14-month-old, diaper-free terrorista. And there I was, complaining about all the cooking and cleaning I was doing, how my spouse didn't shoulder enough of the load with the kids. I felt so June Cleaver.

Even when I go to Music Together classes with Kalian and they sing the insidious "Hello, Everybody" song, they sing, "Hello to the mommies, so glad to see you..." and then "Hello, to the daddy..." (always singular), and the whole room turns, and looks right at me, and waves that goofy wave. And I grimace, weakly.

I bring this up now because I just started a new book club started by spouses of people in Jen's programs. And of course, when I say spouses, I mean wives. As one of the prospective remembers remarked to me, "It'll be interesting that one of spouses in the book club will be a man." Hmm. Are we really such a rare and curious species? (Yes, according to Census data. But more on that another time).

In any case, we read "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee, a slim novel that tries to be a metaphor for the anxieties facing whites in post-Apartheid South Africa. Though I've no doubt that white South Africans have had a difficult time adjusting, it's still hard to drum up much sympathy for their existential crisis. Even more troubling, in my mind, is that the second-half turns on a white lesbian living in the countryside who gets gang-raped by a roving gang of black marauders. Even if such things happen in that land, I couldn't help but see it as a vaguely racist fixation, especially considering the author is a recent Nobel Prize winner.

But such things are great fodder for a lively Book Club. So I trotted over for a rare night out. I should mention, actually, that it's a combo Book/Movie Club. The movie this time was "The Departed." Jen let me off the leash early and I went and saw it at a matinee, and then went straight to Book/Movie Club. Of the movie, I'll just say that it's gruesome, suspenseful, and astonishing. I highly recommend it.

So I arrived at the home of our host, Hilary, a British transplant, who was in the middle of whipping up a duck in the oven, chard, and potatoes for dinner. I immediately felt guilty for having been so slack in preparing a string of lame dinners lately, and vowed to get back to making such elaborate home cooked meals each night (which I did, for quite awhile.) There were Three other women in attendance, two who were journalists, and one a mystery novelist. And all at least several years older than me.

We had wonderful evening, and as I predicted, a lively discussion. We all disliked the book for different reasons. But since this was the first book I had read since coming to Cambridge, I would have talked about it for hours. All the folks were wonderful, even if I couldn't shake my continued self-consciousness about being guy.

It was a fun night, but since I got home late, no blog entry last night. Instead, I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. doing my weekly freelance piece for the Mercury News. When I get my act together, I'll post a links, but for now, here's the latest one:

Seagate insiders reap millions

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wanted: Exorcist

Kalian is really starting to piss me off.

Okay, I know that sounds harsh. And I'm tempted to hit the delete key. But hear me out. Her looks can be deceiving. Parents who don't know her very well, especially random strangers, are constantly coming up to me and saying how cute, how mellow, how delightful she is. She is surely all sweetness and light. They only see this:

But they don't know what I know. And that is, at some point in the past several weeks, Kalian has become possessed by Satan. What these parents don't see are the kind of things that one can only see when you spend about 12 hours a day with another human being, especially one who is 18 months old. For instance, Kalian's favorite game? She likes to climb onto the kitchen table, open the pepper shaker, and shake pepper all over the fruit bowl. The other day, she crawled onto the computer table and I found her stabbing the flat screen computer monitor with a pen, leaving ink marks that now make it difficult to read as I type this. And then there was the afternoon when, rather than falling asleep in her crib, she managed to reach over to a bookshelf, grab a box of art supplies, locate the jar of glitter, and dump it all over herself and the crib.

And these parents don't see the pure spite gene that has grown dominant. Like when I spend 15 minutes attempting to get her to sit on the potty because I know she has to poop or pee. She resists, screaming, until I let her go, and them marches straight into the hall where she pivots, looks straight at me, and pees on the floor.

Out, Satan!

The demonic forces took control early this morning. After mercifully sleeping until almost 6 a.m., Kalian wandered out, Jen commanded that I follow, and I made my feeble attempts to get her on the potty. No luck. Then the screaming started. That was followed by my desperate attempts to figure out what she wanted, and what could mollify her. The screaming woke up Liam, who first began whining for some water, and then launched an all out assault on Kalian, who began to scream even louder, which made Liam scream, which made me scream at them...And then, as I was attempting to insert my head into the blender and was reaching for the puree button, the screaming stopped. And the two little cherubs were playing happily, for the moment. And I pulled back from the abyss.

What followed was our usual hectic Monday morning. We drove across town to take Liam to his occupational therapy appointment (I'll blog more about his later). And when that's done, we dash up the street to drop Kalian off at her day care coop (also, more later). And then it's back across town to take Liam to pre-school, Cambridge-Ellis (which certainly deserves its own blog entry). Suffice to say, it's an elite institution that costs more than the tuition I paid for my freshman year at Duke University. Liam has struggled to fit in socially, in part because he's with a slightly older group of kids who have been together, in some cases, for three years.

We walked in this morning, about 45 minutes late. I observed a stark gender divide, something that's not uncommon, and I can't decide whether it's something to do with this classroom, or if this is just what happens when they turn four. Anyway, all the girls had gravitated to the craft table. All the boys had circled around another table where they were playing with fire trucks, one of Liam's absolute favorite past times. (He was a firefighter for Halloween.) So Liam grabbed a fire truck and joined them at the table. Most of the boys picked up their trucks and walked away...And my heart broke just a little for Liam.

Don't get me wrong, many of these boys are wonderful kids, and we've had some great playdates with them (the culture of playdates is worth a whole epic blog on its own). But still, it was all very Lord of the Flies. I guided Liam over to rejoin them, and the teacher followed to explain about letting everyone participate. She said all the right things, but still, I wanted to somehow make it all right and wasn't sure how.

Then came my 2.5 hours of free time. Unfortunately, a big chunk of my free time has been spent dealing with another Liam issue. In recent weeks, he has developed a profound stutter. As many of you know, he's been getting speech therapy for two years and has made great strides, and has been incredibly positive about it. The stutter is fairly new. Out of nowhere, he could no longer produce sounds at time. His lips would purse, his face would grimace, his face would flush, and he would contort his body, attempting with every ounce of energy to produce a sound, sometimes with no luck.

This all began to happen just as the speech therapist assigned by Cambridge schools had to go on a personal leave. So the timing couldn't have been worse. With no replacement in sight, I've been trying to research our options, calling private therapists, scheduling doctor's appointments, vision screening, bloodwork, hearing tests. Today, I finally connected with a woman who is a renowned stuttering expert (or dysfluency, as it's formally called) and set up an evaluation for him next month. In the meantime, we're trying to reduce his stress, and just be calm and patient. While many therapists have noted that it's not unusual for kids to develop so-called developmental stutters, this appears to be quite a bit more serious, and therefore, potentially ominous for him. So we are hoping that's not the case.

Lest I leave you on a dreary note, I picked up Kalian at noon and we brought home one of her friends from Coop, Jacqueline, to watch as a favor to her parents. This was Kalian's first playdate, as such, and after the two stopped fighting over the baby dolls, and the babydoll stroller, they settled in and had quite a bit of fun. Jacqueline (about 26 months old) made herself right at home by peeling off her clothes and asking for a bath. Since this is Kalian's other favorite activity (she sometimes like three baths a day), I obliged. And as we sat in the bathroom and I watched them splash around joyfully, I thought, that I too could see that cute, sweet little urchin that is my daughter. Or so I'm told.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Long time, no blog

Well, I'm fairly ashamed to acknowledge that it's been over two months since I sat down, and put fingers to keyboard, to give everyone an update on our life in Cambridge 02139. For those of you who have been sitting at your keyboard, hitting the refresh key on your browser for months on end, I apologize. I know my silence potentially leaves you to assume any one of many things.

1. Geez, Chris must be ungodly busy.
2. Hmmm, maybe they've forgotten about the rest of us.
3. Chris must be one lazy bastard.

In fact, the correct answer is mostly number 1, sprinkled with a dash of number 3. But it's definitely not 2.

Following Labor Day, our lives did an 180 degree turn. During the summer, Liam, Kalian and I had seven days a week to fill on our own. We did it, survived, and managed to have fun without killing each other.

In September, we suddenly found our days overscheduled, as it were. Liam started preschool 5 days a week. Kalian and I started at a Day Care coop three days. Jen was in class or studying seven days a week. And I was doing a bit of freelancing for my paper back home. Throw in cooking, cleaning, shopping and, well, it was quite hectic. Somehow, the blog kept taking a back seat.

So now I find myself with a novel's worth of stories to tell and not sure where to begin. I guess I'll start with the most recent events and try to fill you in on the background through some upcoming (and more regular posts).

I just spent this weekend attending a three-day conference on narrative non-fiction writing. That's reporter lingo for writing true stories in the style of a novel, or short story. This marked for my first, and perhaps only, venture into doing something related to my professional life during my year in the 02139. So if nothing else, it was a kind of vacation because I've barely seen the kids for three days. And I feel not an ounce of guilt in saying of my time apart from thing 1 and thing 2...It Rocked!

Beyond that, the conference was incredibly inspiring. It reminded my why I got into the business, why I love it so, and what is truly possible in terms of high-impact, emotional storytelling. As such, I'm bubbling with ideas, some of which I'll share with you in the coming weeks to get your reactions and feedback. Of course, it may be months before I really have the opportunity to do meaningful reporting and writing. But in the meantime, I've vowed to try to get back to writing a bit every day, and that means tending a bit more to this blog and using it tell what for me is the most important of all stories: our family's.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day

This Labor Day weekend we had to miss out on one of favorite things about living in California: Attending the Strawberry Music Festival near Yosemite. However, we did drive 30 minutes north to Lawrence, Ma. where we attended the annual Bread & Roses festival. The festival commemorates an important strike that happened in the mills there back in 1912. The strike not only succeeded in winning the strikers demands, it helped ignite the movement for new child labor laws, safety laws, and a host of other reforms.

Today, of course, most of the mills are empty and like seemingly every town in New England, the locals are trying to attract commuters to live in mills converted to lofts with fancy shops underneath. At the music festival itself, the crowd was enthusiastically pro-union -- and mostly in their 50s and 60s. Great to see their passion, but also a sad commentary on where unions stand today that there weren't more younger people there.

We opted to pass on some of the heartier fare offered by the local vendors at the festival: fried twinkies, fried oreos, fried snickers.

Maybe this is the real reason the labor movement is in trouble: clogged arteries.

In any case, we heard some great music that was very Strawberry-like. In particular, we enjoyed the folks rock sounds of The Mammals, a group that apparently includes Pete Seeger's grandson, and worth checking out. We still missed Camp Naked Babies at Strawberry, but this was a nice consolation prize.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Better Living Through Ice Cream

We've returned from Vermont, I'm happy to report. It was a wonderful trip, with the added twist that it could well be our only extended chance to travel while we're out here. "No!" you cry. But probably 'tis true. Jen will be quite busy and spending much of her free time studying. And with Kalian still on the boob, the three of us can't just go galavanting about the New England countryside on our own. So while we'll still get out for the odd day trip somewheres, this might be our only true vacation.

And it really snuck up on us. We've been so damn busy, that it really only occurred to us a couple days before Jen's summer session ended that this might be our only chance. So I forced Jen and the kids into the car and we headed out on Sunday, not knowing exactly where we were going or what we'd do when we got there. After madly consulting maps and guidebooks as we got on the freeway, we found ourselves heading north through New Hampshire en route to Vermont. As with such spontaneous trips, there were plenty of wonderful, accidental discoveries, and almost as much hair pulling in frustration trying to figure out what to do and where to go. And the weather was a bit drizzly for most of the four days we were gone.

So, we found ourselves the first night in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont. Not only is it the smallest state capital (population 8,000), but we're still not sure how you actually pronounce it. It's so small, you expect Howard Dean to be standing on the corner personally shaking your hand when you arrive.

We stumbled into a wonderful B&B where we put the kids to sleep and then passed out on the couch watching the Emmy's. Party on, dude.

Ah, but in consulting our maps the next morning, we realized that we were only a short drive from Nirvana. Yes, that's right: the Ben and Jerry's factory.

We checked out of the B&B and drove on over. It was nice, a fairly small place. We went on the tour which was quite brief, and led by a tour guide whose disposition seemed to indicate he had drawn the short straw that morning. At the end, we got a free sample of ice cream that is being developed: Apple Pie. It was all very Willy Wonka.

Here's Kalian's first bite of ice cream:

Here's her second. The addiction took hold pretty quickly:

From there, we drove northwest to Burlington, for lunch and a brief stroll along the shore of Lake Champlagne. Like many New England mill towns, the city is desperately trying to convert all its abandoned mills into yupppie shopping centers and condos. Bad for the working class; lucky for us as we had no trouble finding a lunch spot.

We then drove madly in circles trying to figure out where to go next. After a couple of hours of frustration, we somehow wound up at Shelburne Farms, a cooperative farm just south of Burlington, which just happens to have some old inn straight out of "The Shining." And which just happened to have a room open. This was apparently a rare circumstance, prompting us to pay an obscene amount of money to stay there:

But it was beautiful, and the next morning, we went over to the farm, where Liam found plenty of tractors to amuse himself. Kalian seemed more delighted by the animals. It was quite an amazing place, actually, built by some richy riches as a model farm about 100 years ago, and now a working cooperative and museum.

We took a hayride, and then drove down to the street to the Shelburne Museum, the region's other major attraction (aside from hiking, mountains, etc. which were sort of off limits due to weather.) The Museum is sort of a wacky mini-town they've created with old buildings preserved and then relocated to this spot. There's an old sawmill, and old train and station, stable, etc. Of course, there was also an old steamship that they somehow dragged three miles from the lake:

From there, we drove back south to Brattleboro, another mill town trying to make the transition to yuppiedom. It's recently been in the national news because it turns out they forgot to outlaw nudity there. As such, the local teen scene has spent the summer wandering around downtown nekkid. For better or for worse, it was raining during our short stay, and everyone remained clothed. We slept in a funky Victorian hotel and then drove back into Massachusetts the next morning where, after some more wrong turns, landed in Everett State Park where we took a spectacular hike, ate lunch, and then played in the lake. The weather finally turned sunny, and it was a fabulous end to our trip.

We're back now and settling in. Kalian's day care coop starts Friday. Liam's new preschool starts next Wednesday. And Jen is trying to pick her classes. So now that we've figured everything out, it will all change again.

For your additional viewing pleasure: During the trip across the Vermont countryside, we saw about 10,000 tractors, which, of course, has fueled Liam's love of all things tractor related. We've been making a whole new line of tractor attachments from Legos, including a harrow, a cultivator, and most important, a manure spreader:

Friday, August 25, 2006

Kappa Sigma Gamma Mixer

We did it! We did it! Thursday was the last day of Jen's summer session. She had a couple hellish days of exams. And was over. It's been a long six weeks for all of us. Now we're off for two weeks.

But before we head out for a bit, the Kennedy School of Government had a little party for the mid-career students. I had met some of the Jen's classmates at various social events. They have an afternoon social every Friday (or Keggers on the Quad, as I call it.) But this was a chance for everyone to cut loose. With booze.

We were fortunate that our good friend Joel and his fiancee Lani volunteered to babysit. This was our first date night in Cambridge without the kids. Woo-hoo! So we put on our finest threads and headed out:

The party was fun. Jen has been a little surprised at how conservative a lot of her classmates are, many seem to be from the military or the Israeli defenses services. So at the party, Jen could heard to exclaim random things like:

"That guy over there is in charge of the Iraqi cultural ministry..."
"That guy is running for president of Azerbaijan..."
"I just danced with the head of China's finance department..."

That's Jen dancing ironically to "Shook Me All Night Long." Yep it was that kind of party. And here are your future world leaders shaking it to "YMCA."

Well, that's it for now. We're taking off today for Vermont. We don't even know where we're heading or what's there or where we're staying. Ben and Jerry's. Mountains. Ben and Jerry's. Who knows? We've been too busy to plan anything.


On Wednesday, we took a little tour of Fenway Park. The Red Sox had recetly completed an epic five-game collapse against the hated Yankees. They were out of town by now, so I took the kids on a guided tour of the ballpark. Both seemed to love it, though a man yelling over the PA system made Liam a bit nervous. Still hoping to get them out to a game before the season ends.

Here they are sitting on the Green Monster:

Hey, Toto. We're not in California anymore...

This past Monday marked the homestretch for the summer portion of our excellent adventure. This was the final week of Jen's summer program. The weather has cooled considerably. And I got some glimpses of some of the big changes that lay ahead. All in one wacky day.

The day started with a sharp reminder that we're no longer on the left coast. Our Monday routine has included a trip to the main Cambridge library for singing and story time and then a walk to a nearby park. I parked in front of the library, put some money in the meter. As many of you know, we've raised Kalian "diaper free." So I took her out and put her on her portable potty to pee. Then Liam came out and said he had to pee, too. So I let him sit on the little green potty on the sidewalk. As he was sitting there, a large woman came running across the street screaming that we couldn't that! She claimed she was a Cambridge police officer, but was dressed in shorts and t-shirt. We'd been there about 1 minute, and she claimed someone had filed a complained in the library.

She insisted that if Liam had been a little bit older, we'd be breaking the law. But she wouldn't tell me which ones. I refused to give her my name. And when I asked for her badge or some ID, she refused to produce them. She said the fact that she had a walkie talkie should be enough proof for me. Okay. Anyway, we just walked away from her and into the library. I figured if we were such scofflaws, she could bust me in the library in front of all the other moms and nannies and lead me out in handcuffs. We never heard from her again.

Anyway, the late afternoon was much more enjoyable, as we had wonderful visit from an old friend from North Carolina days, Kathleen Hannan. Kathleen is a wonderful spirit, but also an amazing singer/songewriter of both adult and kids music. Liam especially was quite excited by her visit. He's been listening to some tapes she's made since he was born and was eager to jam:

Kathleen is working on a new kids album which we'll say more about when it comes out.

After Kathleen's visit, I had to rush over to my first meeting for Kids' Coop Cambridge. We just recently found out we got a spot there for Kalian, and I'm very excited. Basically, there are 15 families and 19 kids involved, mostly three and under. Kalian will go three days a week for three hours. It costs almost nothing. But the main requirement is that I work one of the three days and perform an additional job. In this case, my job is to be a board member and be the recording secretary, which involves taking the minutes. As for my caregiver shift, I either have to bring a snack, plan a craft, or be the cleanup guy each week.

It sounds great. But as I've gotten all the materials, regulations, curriculum, etc., I've been a little worried about how much work is involved. If this all lines up, the Coop will leave me with about 5 free hours each week during the days. I'll have to see if all the outside work makes it worth it. But I think it will.

That said, I think it's going to be a great thing, for me and Kalian. The board meeting was interesting, even at three hours long. It's clearly a group of parents that' s a little closer to us politically and socially than a lot of the folks we've met so far. I've been hanging with some of the spouses from Jen's program, who are wonderful people, but who tend to be from military backgrounds. The Coop, I think, will be a nice balance to that. One of the main Coop board members has been an organizer of a lot of anti-Iraq war stuff in Cambridge.

So the first meeting was a nice introduction, and hopefully it'll work out. People were very supportive when I talked about Kalian being "diaper free." Definitely a good sign.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

It's like summer vacation, only more stressful...

Well, almost two weeks have flown by since my last post. Things have settled down somewhat. Boxes are (mostly) unpacked. Jen is halfway through her grueling summer session. And Chris (otherwise known as me) has not thrown himself through a window yet. It's the small victories, yes?

The transition to full-time fatherhood has been both fun and challenging. Fun, of course, because the kids are great and teach me so much everyday. How can you not love moments like this:

Or Liam learning the Banjo-tam:

Challenging, it almost goes without saying, because there's almost no mental break, in particular because Jen's schedule is so packed. And there are other factors that are raising the degree of difficulty. Though we've met some folks, we have little community to fall back on. On days when I'm feeling a little pooped, I can't just call up a buddy and arrange a low stress playdate. Instead, I feel the pressure to organize, arrange, and execute some entertainment or activity everyday for Thing 1 and Thing 2.

That's often complicated by the fact that when we want to do something new, we don't know all the logistics involved, and therefore it's 10 times as stressful as it would otherwise. Particularly if driving is involved. Because as anyone who as lived here will tell you, driving anywhere in the Boston area is a nightmare. Not only because of traffic, but because of an insane street system and ubiquitous construction. As a result, things that look close on a map can take forever to reach. My aunt lives 5 miles away and the drive takes 30 minutes. The other day I took the kidlets to the zoo, a 6 mile drive: Drive time was 1 hour, 15 minutes. You quickly understand why people are so hostile and rude here when they're behind the wheel. I've found myself ready to take human life on more than once occasion.

That said, I overall feel like I'm on an extended holiday with the kids. They are still learning their way around each other and how to interact, especially now that Kalian has steamrolled into toddlerhood. Witness:

She wants to do everything that big brother does, which he both loves and hates. I feel like days often sound like the following transcript: "Liam, stop. Let go of your sister. Don't. Put your feet down. Kalian, stop provoking him. Liam, no. No. Stop. Quit it. Please." They're figuring it out. But of course, I know this is all payback for the way I tortured my little brother growing up.

Some days, it's like this: The kids just hanging out on the steps at Quincy Market in Faneuil Hall, cracking each other up, playing around, and just being cute:

And some days, it's like this:

Sigh. But we're learning. Especially me. I often feel guilty for not being more patient with them, or the times when I lose my cool. I have to keep reminding myself that they're just kids, and not privates in my personal army, expected to follow every command without question. But I also find that I'm embracing the role of running the house, including cooking all the meals, shopping, cleaning. Strangely, I don't fell myself missing work all that much, certainly not nearly as much as I expected.

The best part of all this are the things I get to experience with them. It really is like summer vacation in the sense that we're getting to see and do so much together. We visited Boston Commons, played in Frog Pond...

...and rode the Swan Boats. Went to the Children's Museum. The zoo. The aquarium. Riding the "T" (Liam's favorite so far). Many, many parks. Music Together (though we miss their old teacher from Oakland). Swimming pools. We took a day trip to Crane Beach in northeast Mass. And we've been here less than a month.

This past weekend, I had a rare day off to sit in a cafe by myself, read the newspaper, and drink Algerian coffee. Very decadent. I barely knew what to do. The next day, we went to the North End, the city's Italian district, to experience one of the local religious festivals. This would be familiar to any Sopranos fan.

It was an all too rare family outing:

Okay, this is overly long. I'll sign off for now. Gotta get to bed and start all over again tomorrow. Bye.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Pahk mah cah in hahvahd yahd

Well, we made it. We arrived in Cambridge last Wednesday (almost two weeks ago) and were greeted by hot, humid weather. Though I guess we can't complain too much because it was apparently much hotter in the Bay Area after we left. Gee, sorry we missed that.

But the fact that it's taken me two weeks to post this should tell you how crazy things have been since we got here. We've been unpacking and trying to settle in. And Jen started classes last Wednesday. So, it's nutty.

The apartment is nice, but comes with quirks. The owner keeps all her stuff here and we're not allowed to pack it up. Even though she never lives here. And good thing too, because the place is apparently a kind of time capsule to her life in the mid-1980s. For instance, the centerpiece of our kitchen is this wonderful picture clock of Madonna, from her "Like a Virgin" days:

And we have a wonderful set of Encyclopedias (uh, hello. Internet?)

Not to mention, a killer record collection:

But it's in a great neighborhood, with lots of great shops, restaurants and funky stores. If only we had the time or money to visit any of them, it would be even better.

Jen has been busy, overwhelmed, but excited to be out in the academic world. Here she is leaving for her first day of classes:

And I've been trying to keep the kids amused with a rotating schedule of parks, pools, libraries, touristy stuff, and visits to relatives for grilled cheeses. We checked out the local Children's Museum and lo, it has an entire floor devoted to construction. Of course, Liam went bonkers. In fact, much of Boston seems to be under construction, including the local library. Not to mention the Big Dig. So it's a dream for Mr. Liam.

Still, he clearly misses his friends in Oakland and Heart of a Child. As do we all. He told Jen the other night that he wanted to bring all his friends out for his birthday party. Sigh.

Kalian just seems to roll with the punches. Despite a nasty heat rash and a few rough nights of sleeping (or not sleeping), she's emerging as a perky, independent little person who enjoys dancing and eating non stop.

As for me, it's been quite a lifestyle change. I'm exhausted but enjoying myself at the same time. That's not to say the transition to full-time daddy hasn't been frustrating and overwhelming at times. But fortunately, Cambridge is generally pretty kid friendly. And we've met a few folks on the playgrounds in the neighborhood. More thoughts on this later. But for now, both kids are napping, a rare harmonic convergence. So I'll sign off and take this moment to do....nothing....