Category Archives: war

What do good windows make?

            Our neighbor likes to sleep with her windows open.  And she is a light sleeper who sleeps late.

            Our children are out of bed by 7:00.  They like to go and play outside.  I like to let them go out before it gets hot and sunny.

            Herein lies the problem.

            The first time she yelled out the window, “Can you please be quiet?  We’re still sleeping,” the boys were fighting.  Chagrined, I immediately brought them inside.  Sadly, I think that may have encouraged her.

            Now, every time they so much as open their mouths, she shouts out the window for them to keep it down, then slams her window shut.

            Keep in mind that we never let them play outside before 7:30 on a weekday and later on the weekends.  They know if there is any fighting or screaming, they will come inside immediately, and we always follow through on this.  All they are doing is playing, but this is an urban neighborhood and the houses are very close together.

            Keep in mind also that our household naps in the afternoon.  Since the aforementioned neighbor has a yappy dog, a son who likes to bellow opera, and a piano studio in the backyard, we shut the windows during nap time.  I am, after all, a light sleeper.  It is not reasonable for me to ask her to keep it down for an hour each afternoon.

            It may, however, be reasonable for her to sleep till past 8:30 AM.  And, it is surely better for the planet that she sleeps with her windows open instead of air conditioning.  She has a point.

            And so do I.  I will not tell my kids they cannot play outside in the morning.  She probably will not start shutting her windows at night.  We are at a standstill, like Van Itch and Grandpa in The Butter Battle Book. 

            Perhaps the time will come when we talk about this face to face.  Perhaps we will both be grown up enough about it to come to an understanding.  But I doubt it.  One thing I have learned about adults is that we are rarely grown ups.  We prefer the cowardly approach; we prefer to sit on our haunches assured of our rectitude.  We prefer to send little boys into battle rather than compromise or accept that there is more than one way to be right.  For all our talk of tolerance, we prefer to fight than to humble ourselves before someone else’s belief system.

            And so, she will probably continue to yell out her bedroom window and I will probably continue to ignore her and we will give each other polite smiles when we are both in our driveways at the same time. 

            And my little boys will grow up in a world of self-righteousness and anger, rather than one in which compromise is possible.

How we know he’s my child

            I made the mistake of telling Zachary about the war.  I just wanted him to shut up about turning off NPR long enough to hear what the President was saying.  So, I explained that a man named George Bush is our President and he had started a war and I wanted to hear why it was still happening.  I had to explain that the war was because he was angry at some people in a place called Iraq, which let to myriad discussions about why he might be so angry at the Iraqis. 

            Big mistake.

            Now, we seem to have very regular discussions about wars and politics, which would not be so bad if the other half of the conversation were not three-and-three-quarters.  Passing an Obama sign in our new neighborhood, I explained how the President was elected by all the people in the United States – so that grown-ups living in Washington like Grandma and Grandpa or in Boston like T or in Philadelphia like A or in Fresno like our cousin or in Los Angeles like us all wrote down who they wanted to be in charge of the whole country and then someone counted and the person that the most grown-ups wrote down gets to be President.

            I figured we’re a little young to grasp the Electoral College.

            “So the man in the house wants to be President?” he asked of another house with an Obama sign.

            “No, honey.  He put up that sign to tell people that he thinks a man named Barak Obama would be a good President.  He thinks that he is really smart and really nice.”

            “But,” Zach replied, “He isn’t nice.”

            Fearing I was raising another Alex P. Keaton, I said, “He is very nice.”

            “But, Mommy, why is he angry?”  Ahhhh… so that’s it.  We were returning to the war and the current President. 

            “Sweetie, George Bush is President right now and he started the war.  Barak Obama wants to be President.  He didn’t start it.”

            And, so it goes, on and on, between conversations about trains and pink and school, we talk about the war and elections, which is preferable to some other questions I have gotten lately about my  family of origin and how babies get in bellies (a post for another time).

            Here in D.C., the grandparents have set up an art table for use by their various grandchildren.  Zach is eagerly making use of the materials, and he made a book for his grandmother.  “This is a book about how to stop wars,” he told her.  Since my mother-in-law is of the opinion that all guns should be melted down, she was more than happy to take any book on the topic.

            Later in the day, I was getting him out of the car.  “Mommy,” he said, “why do Presidents have to have wars?”

            “They don’t, Zachary.  It is the President’s job to make sure we don’t have a war.”

“I am going to write lots of books about how we can compromise to stop wars,” he informed me.  He is just not a big fan of guns.

            “That’s wonderful baby.  Maybe you can be President some day and make sure we don’t have any more wars.”

            No, Mommy.  I just want to read books about how to stop wars.”  Wonderful.  One more academic in the family. 

Songs that voices never share


Being a lawyer is the hardest job to have when you have children.

This is true.  I know it is an indisputable fact.  I know this because Helen told me so.  I’m a younger sister.  If Helen told me so, it is true.

Now, those of you who do not have Helen for an older sister might disagree with her assessment of “attorney” as the most difficult job to hold down when one is a mother.  I, myself, have sometimes – in my darkest, most private moments – wondered whether, just maybe, it could be possible that Helen could be wrong.  About this only, of course.

As Helen explained to me, lawyers are at the mercy of judges.  When the judge tells her to be in court, she has to be in court, and there are few judges out there who really care whether Marc is still recovering from the chicken pox or has a t-ball game that afternoon.  Still, I cannot help wondering if perhaps there are a few other lines of work that are slightly more difficult. 

Take, for example, law enforcement.  Police officers, after all, have those nuisance shifts that require them to be away from home at 2 in the morning.  And people shoot at them, by the by. 

Or, perhaps strippers.  (I know some people might consider strippers an extreme example, but I think we weren’t put on this earth to judge what other people have to do to put sandwiches in their kids’ lunch boxes.)  Stripping, I think, would be a very hard job to do with children.  After all, it does not tend to be a 9 to 5 job.  Strippers mostly miss out on bath and book time, not to mention the fact that their job is sometimes a bit demeaning.  On the bright side, they’re usually there for the t-ball games.

Only slightly less frustrating is waiting tables.  Those of you who’ve done it know of what I speak.  One of the things I found most frustrating about waitressing was that it was completely unpredictable.  Some schmuck could decide to sit at table 39 all shift long with a cup of coffee and a basket of tortilla chips, tying up ¼ of my tables, and then leave me 19 cents for a tip.  Even worse were the people who sat there, oblivious to the fact that my entire station had cleared out an hour before, discussing important-looking flow charts while I stood in the kitchen, fuming over the fact that I could not leave the restaurant till I’d emptied out my station. 

How much harder would it be, I wonder, to stand there, knowing you are missing your child’s bedtime and he’ll be put to bed by grandma again because you’re stuck waiting to clean out table 27?  And not even knowing whether they plan on leaving a tip.

Perhaps, though, Helen wasn’t considering these professions.  Perhaps they were not white-collar enough for her.

Well, I still think you could imagine one or two lines of white-collar work that are harder on a parent than being a lawyer.  Flight attendant or pilot, for example.  Yes, I’ll admit, it’s hard missing baby Spanish class because you have a court date, but I’m still thinking it just might be a little harder missing Gymboree because you’re on a transcontinental flight.  I’m just sayin’…

And then there are consultants.  I married one of those, you know.  He spends so much time in different time zones that his body no longer has an internal clock.  He is perpetually jet-lagged.  (FYI, they plant a lot of forests to offset his travel.  It mattered to me to know that, so I thought it might matter to some of you.  I still don’t like the environmental impact of his travel, but the forests do help.  Please don’t comment on it, as it bothers me enough as it is and there’s nothing I can do about it.)  Moving to London helped; he travels only about half the time now.  When we were in the U.S., it was closer to 80%. 

Once, when Zachary was about 18 months old, I thought I heard J coming home from a trip while I was bathing the little guy.  So did Zach.  So, he tried to swing his scrawny little leg over the side of the tub, scramble out of the bath, and fling his wet and naked body over the banister to where Daddy was.  I convinced him to wait.

That’s how much Zachary misses his father when he travels.  As he’s gotten older, you’d think he’d be getting used to it, but he’s really not.  Now, he is just more sophisticated in his reactions.  Usually, he punishes me for the first twenty-four hours of J’s absence and then punishes J for the first 12 hours upon his return.  I think I’m getting the raw end of the deal, here.

Benjamin is no more accepting of the status quo than is his brother.  When J returned this time, he wanted to get out of his high chair to be hugged.  Out of his high chair.  During breakfast.  While eating pancakes.  This is a child who is under the impression breakfast should last till 20 minutes before morning snack, which should last till 45 minutes before lunch.  Usually, we just pick an arbitrary moment when his pace of consumption has slowed and declare that mealtime is over.

So, you can imagine how much he missed his Daddy if he was willing to call off breakfast of his own volition.

I miss their Daddy, too.  To be frank, I never bother to miss him on trips that are shorter than four days.  If I did, I’d spend my whole life whining about his absence.  But, on longer trips, it gets kind of lonesome only getting adult conversation during school drop off.  This last trip was nine days.  That’s a long time, especially since he got to be back in the U.S., working but also seeing old friends and family, while I was stuck here in London dealing with the Timmy situation and spending a good half an hour a day discussing the day of the week with Zachary.

“What day is today?”  Zachary would ask.

“Today is Wednesday,” I would answer.

“How many days until Sunday?” he wanted to know.  So, we’d count the days till Daddy’s return.  He would nod, satisfied, and then begin the conversation all over again three hours later.  I tried to see it as a teaching moment.  At least he was learning the days of the week.

I was pretty eagerly awaiting Sunday morning, when J would be back.  Tired and jet-lagged, but available to be climbed upon while passed out on the living room floor.  So, you can imagine how I felt when he called me Saturday night at 9:30, just about when he was supposed to be driving to Dulles.

“I’m not going to be home for at least another day,” he informed me.  My first thought, as it always is when he travels internationally, was that there had been some sort of terrorist attack I hadn’t heard about and all the flights had been cancelled.  No, no terrorist attacks.  Just a lost passport.  “Stolen,” he told me.

Just to clarify.  We are Americans living in London on a two-year visa.  A visa that is glued into my husband’s passport.  It must be in his passport when he enters the country.  So, the boys and I were here, he was there, and the passport with the visa was missing.  You will all be very proud of me when I tell you that, not only did I refrain from threatening to remove his earlobes with a buzz saw if he did not make it home, I actually remained calm and supportive.

Yeah, it surprised me, too.

Then, half an hour later, he called again.  He was on the way to the airport.  His father had retained some presence of mind and found the passport tucked away in some obscure part of the luggage.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)  This time, I just couldn’t be mature about it.  I had to make fun of him, just a little.

The fact is, I don’t just worry when he travels internationally.  Even when he stays here in London, if he is twenty minutes late getting home, I start worrying that there was an attack on the Tube.  Even while I try to cajole Zachary to take three more bites and try to convince Benjamin that ketchup is a condiment, not a hair product, I start imagining their father trapped underground.  Irrational though it is, I worry.

I worry partly the same way I’ve always worried.  I worry about losing my best friend, my partner, the only person who still, after all these years, can make me laugh.  I worry for me and I worry for him.  But, for the past three years, I’ve worried on another level.

If I lost J, I just don’t know how I’d raise the boys on my own.  As you are aware, I have somewhat limited models for parenting.  I’m also a bit at a handicap when it comes to raising men, being, you know, female and all.

In her Hump Day Hmm, Julie asked about losing it all.  Well, the truth of it is, losing material possessions does not scare me all that much.  If there were a fire in the house, I’d sort of hope I could grab the passports and the boys’ blankies, but really all that would matter would be getting the family out of the house.  And, since the boys sleep with the blankies, I pretty much figure the passports would be the only challenge.

But losing J or one of my boys?  That would be losing it all.  So, I worry.  I worry whenever he travels, whenever he’s late, whenever I am alone too long with my own imagination.  And I’ll tell you, folks, I really have less to worry about than others.

Because there are, out there, plenty of people whose partners are gone for longer than nine days at a time.  In places considerably less safe than the District of Columbia or the London Underground.  Who are left to raise their kids for months, even years, without the other parent, not ever knowing if that other parent is going to come back.

You know who I am talking about.

When I think about losing it all, I think about the mothers and fathers who are half a world away from their families, fighting in a war that none of us can pinpoint a reason for.  (I also think about the families in the middle of the war, but that’s a whole other can of worms.  Just don’t think I’ve forgotten them.)  I think about mothers whose children are graduating from t-ball to baseball without them seeing a single game.  I think about fathers who aren’t even their when their daughters are born.  I think about everyone who just won’t come back.

This is not an anti-war post.  I wish, I wish, I wish I were wise enough to understand all the complexities of international politics and clever enough to untwist them and devise a solution to end the war.  I am not.  I haven’t even been following the news much lately because I despair at my total inability to change a damned thing.  (A situation I am working to remedy.)

But I am sad.  I am sad that we have created a society so complicated that we need airplanes and terrorism and wars.  I understand, I really do, that our intricate minds have created things of tremendous beauty and use – vaccines, the Sistine Chapel, guitars, Snickers bars, Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.  But, I am also sad that our society is so intricate we need to take parents and put them someplace far away from their children.  And I am angry, because I don’t really understand how to get the good complexities without the bad.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.

 All I know is that there are careers that are a lot tougher on parents than being a lawyer.

Hump Day HmmThis week’s Hump Day Hmmm is to write about loss.  Head on over to Julie’s place to see them all.