Thursday, December 24, 2015

Days 2780-2785: Thanksgiving in the Sun

This year (2015), my mom wanted to go somewhere sunny and warm for a family Christmas vacation. Back in July, when it looked like I was going to be mired in genteel unemployment for a while (how it ended up that I wasn't was a genuine surprise twist ending), Melissa and I took a quick somewhat impromptu vacation to Isla Mujeres, in Mexico (an island right off the coast of the Yucatan). Melissa - she's good at this sort of thing - thought up the idea, since it might give us a chance to see the whale sharks that we managed to miss when we were in Belize back in 2010. It worked!

We enjoyed our time there so much that when we came back, we suggested it as a possible spot for the family vacation. What we didn't realize was that you need to plan way, way, before August if you want to get a place to stay on Isla over Christmas. Thanksgiving is much easier, however, so we ended up turning it into a Thanksgiving vacation instead.

It was a good decision, all told!

We had some bumps leading up to the trip. Less than a week before, the place we were planning to stay told us, "oh, oops, we're having renovations, you can't stay here." This was actually a really stressful and frustrating situation, but I'm mostly going to pass over it here. We ended up in a new house that wasn't ideal, but was fine.

The first day was mostly travel, including a trip across the sound on a high-speed ferry. M, Ruth, and I flew down with my parents, while David and Meli came separately from NYC. We were a bit worried about the ferry - neither of my folks like boats, but everyone made it across fine.


We met at one of M's and my favorite restaurants from our previous stay for Thanksgiving Dinner with David and Meli that first night, Reuben's. I wish I'd thought to get a picture of the whole family!

The next morning, we took advantage of the fact that our new place's less-central location had one virtue, which was that it was walking distance to another good eating spot, Mango Cafe. So we walked over for breakfast. Ruth had the long-promised coconut French toast, and my Dad, of course, had a photo in front of license plates.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out up near North Beach (and David and Meli's hotel), just kind of hanging out on the beach (I am the only person in the family for whom beaches are not an extremely exciting attraction in and of themselves). Ruth was also happy to find people selling green coconuts to drink out of, "like in Ghana."


Ruth also decided that what she wanted more than anything else was an icon of the Virgin Mary to hang on her wall. So she and I went around browsing the many options in that regard, and found a nice one (not pictured) at a family-owned ceramics shop that M and I had bought some gifts at last time around.

Day three we went down to Garrafon de Castilla, which is a great little beach where there are more fish to be seen than in the North. On the way, we stopped at the small, but very nice Tortugranja sea turtle sanctuary. Ruth especially liked the pool full of newborns.


Garrafon was Ruth's first time using her snorkel outside of a pool, and we wanted to see how she liked it. She liked it! She and I spent more or less the entire day (only taking time off for me to rest) swimming out to different points and looking at fish. The water was pretty murky, and most of what we saw were Sergeant Major fish (the "pigeons of the sea"). But Ruth was absolutely entralled. And energetic! I had to "tow" her a few times, but she mostly swam herself, even through waves and into some pretty deep water (and, at Garrafon, without a life vest or other flotation device). I got some photos, but between the murk and the glare from the sun, if we ever go back I'm going to save up for a camera with an optical viewfinder, and not just the digital screen, as a lot of this was just waving the camera in the general direction of something interesting and hoping for the best (the same for the photos from the next day).



Ruth enjoyed swimming around off the beach at Garrafon enough that we arranged the next day to take a trip out to one of the reefs for a "real" snorkeling trip.

Our first stop was the Lighthouse Reef. Out in the deeper water, the waves were more intense, but Ruth proved herself a very strong swimmer. We had a blast swimming around and pointing out cool fish to each other.










The original plan was that we would sign up for the short, two-hour trip just out to the reef, then back in for lunch. David and Meli had planned to go on the longer trip, including a second swim at the underwater museum, Musa. We would have gone together, but for that divergence in plans. However, wires seemed to have gotten crossed at some point, as we found ourselves, before we realized the mistake, jetting off toward Musa.

Ruth made a new friend, a nine-year-old named Ella, on the boat over. She was from Las Vegas, but apparently she and her mother had spent a few months in the area, with her dad visiting when he could, and had just bought a place nearby on the mainland.

The waves at Musa were pretty intense, since it's in even deeper water. We did get to see a sea turtle, though!


The swimming at Musa was tough. I'd already been and, honestly, I probably wouldn't have gone again for myself as a snorkeler, since the statues are pretty deep (the really impressive views on the website and video linked above require scuba gear). But Ruth thought it was pretty cool, and she and Ella were troopers. We made a sort of makeshift flotilla, with Ella and Ruth holding hands in the middle, and Ella's dad and I on each end, holding our daughter's hand and helping to pull the whole arrangement through what were, I think, about 4-8' swells.

At the beach, Ruth and Ella hung out while I drank a ridiculously large Sol and chatted with her parents, and some folks who turned out to be from Baltimore.

Then we had lunch. Playa Tiburon (Shark Beach) has a sort of communal grilling/cooking area that all the boat trips (there's a union) seem to use, and the guys let Ruth and Ella watch them cook some fish they caught while we were snorkeling (I didn't think to get a photo - I was honestly pretty exhausted). Ruth managed to convince Ella to try some of the fish, and demanded that we make it when we get home (we did - fortunately, achiote paste and banana leaves are pretty easy to get around here - but it wasn't as good baked as cooked on an open grill, and when it wasn't caught three minutes before we ate it).

Ruth and I returned home, bone-tired but having had a fantastic day, and met up with the family for (more) fish at Abuela's. As it turns out, wires had gotten crossed the other way on David and Meli's trip, and so they ended up on the short trip that we'd planned to be on. Oh well...

We started out the fourth day by shell-picking along the Eastern sea wall. The finds weren't as good as when we'd been there before, but it was nice hanging out with Ruth and M.

We did find a neat little tidal pool full of baby Sergeant Major fish (they're hard to see in this photo).


We spent the rest of the day hanging out at Playa Norte again. And then, our last day, we had one last breakfast at Mango Cafe, then home.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Days 2163-4 NYC

Back in January, Ruth and I didn't go to NYC, thanks to a huge snowstorm. This past Monday, we had yet another snowstorm in our very long winter, and it looked a bit worrisome, but we did finally make it back up!

We were being put up, quite kindly, by my friend James. So the first order of business was to stop by his office (the offices of OkCupid look... pretty much exactly what I imagined they'd look like, actually), and get his keys, so we could stop by and drop our stuff at his apartment.

JAMES: What are you and your dad going to do today?
RUTH: Um, we're going to go to New York City.

Logistics taken care of, we were off! It was a bit drizzly and grey, so we decided to hit the American Museum of Natural History first. We started off with the planetarium show, which was always one of my favorite things as a kid visiting. Ruth was a bit scared by the parts set in "deep space," but she liked watching the satellites and the simulation of the Jupiter atmosphere probe.

We spent some time in the planetary science area, and then, of course, DINOSAURS. Ruth's favorites were the mummified coleophysis (showing some preserved skin) and a primitive reptile with a wide, kite-shaped head and whose name I can't track down right now. Unfortunately, I'm a big kid myself around dinosaurs, so wasn't focused on taking pictures!

After that, we just kind of explored the halls. Ruth especially liked the Hall of Marine Life (navigated to using a French map, since they were all out of English) and the giant model blue whale. We were there until Ruth was starting to get hungry, so we headed to Chinatown. We had dinner at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, and... we may have ordered too much food.

See... I hadn't eaten since 6AM, and it all sounded good (and it was good!), and five year olds LIE about whether they will in fact eat lots of deep-fried spare ribs if you order what turns out to be approximately one hundred pounds of them. Anyway, the food was pretty good, and it didn't stop Ruth from having room for dessert at a bakery up the street.

Because it was late and cold and drizzly, we didn't really see much of Chinatown. But Ruth was fascinated by the display of figurines in the window of a Taoist temple. I asked her about the pose, and she said she was looking tough to protect them.

The next morning, we had breakfast with James at Murray's. Ruth lived up to her reputation of loving lox.

ME: Ruth, tongue in your mouth. Don't act like a dog, please.

James and I had five minutes of relatively adult conversation, and he had an excited conversation with Ruth about gummy worms (apparently you can make them glow in the dark if you make them with tonic water).

Then, off uptown again!

We started at the Ancient Playground, where Ruth played for about two contented hours.

I managed to drag her away with promises of the ancient Egyptian art in the Met. I messed up - I'd bought a reduced-price "skip the line" ticket through Groupon, but stupidly left it in my book in the apartment, and the Met has a killer strategy for getting you to pay full price when you have to do it again: old ladies. It is really hard to look an old lady in the eye and tell her that you're not going to pay the full recommended admission even though you can. So... well. Don't judge me for my lack of negotiation skills.

We started at the Tomb of Perneb.

MELISSA: Most serious kid in the world in this picture, huh?
ME: She said she wanted to look like a spirit of the dead.

Then, off to the Temple of Dendur! It really is quite impressive.

We ran around it for a bit, and then Ruth wanted to see Chinese art.

By then, we'd been there for actually about an hour and a half, and Ruth was flagging. So, fortunately, Alice's Tea Cup was able to move up our reservation. Ruth loooooved it. She ate clotted cream with a spoon, spread chocolate mousse on one of my cookies, guzzled an over-the-top "Christmas Brew" of pineapples, oranges, peppermint, cinnamon, etc. etc. and who knows what, and generally had a grand time and we told stories together about a version of Alice in Wonderland where she turned into a bee, a jungle princess who had to move to the savannah and then end a magical drought that a wizard created, a little girl who saved her fairy friend from giant flowers, and a dad who saved his daughter from captivity in the blue jay kingdom.


By then, we were both pretty exhausted. We stopped by the apartment, grabbed our stuff, and dropped off the keys with Mr. James (and thanked him profusely, again - Ruth wanted to be the one to hand him his keys, which definitely meant she liked him). Then a moderately-paced dash to our bus home (NYC peeps - what the heck is up with those buses you have to pay for before you board? Is it just to make the process more annoying?).

My tired trooper managed to hang on long enough to get on the bus. And watch part of a movie. And play a bunch of Cut the Rope. And have a story. Then she fell asleep and I binged on Welcome to Night Vale and RISK! until we got home to Melissa, her good news, and collapse.

I didn't get to see any of my grown-up NYC friends really (almost not even James) but I had a blast, and maybe soon we'll be keeping a more "adult who has a job" schedule. Ruth wants to do it again.

Actually, Ruth wants me to get a job in New York so that the whole family can move there.

If you're interested, there are some more photos from the trip here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Day 2108 - The Political Economy of Yelling at Your Kid

I don't normally talk about "philosophical" stuff on this blog, but here goes.

This morning, I had a meltdown at Ruth, like, ranting, yelling, and screaming. It was one of those "straw that broke the camel's back" moments. The proximate cause was just that I'd gone out to scrape ice off the car, and told her that we really needed to get to school and so while I was out could she please put her coat on, but when I came back in, she hadn't. Of course, it wasn't just that. It never is! Between the weekend, MLK Day, and snow days, Ruth has been at home - mostly cooped up in the house with us, for five days straight - and then this morning, we had a 2-hour delay. Three times, despite being five, she had accidents, including one this morning where she just straight up peed on the floor when she was steps away from the bathroom. Yesterday, I took her out sledding with a friend, which was about 5% sledding and 95% whining. Melissa's been sick. Recently, Ruth was in the ER for shoving something up her nose. We didn't get to take the NYC trip I was looking forward to as much as Ruth was. The pizza was an hour late last night. I mean, that's always the way. Anyone could avoid yelling about almost any incident, if it was one anomalous thing in a life of bliss, but it's the streaks of bad luck and defiance and annoyance that really wear you down. And this morning I happened to be alone with Ruth (Melissa already used up personal time on the previous snow days), so I didn't have Melissa around to step in so I could cool off, or to talk me down. Sometimes you need someone else's help to de-escalate.

But, on the way back from dropping Ruth off at school, I started thinking about this a bit more. I didn't yell at the pizza guy, despite his delay causing me at least as much actual problem as Ruth's two-minute delay in getting her coat on. I mean, sure, maybe it wasn't his fault he was late, I don't know - but Ruth is also five, there are probably extenuating circumstances for her as well. She's still learning how to be a person.

There are all sorts of people in my social and professional life that I don't yell at. Many of them have caused me much greater harm, much more willfully, or even maliciously, than Ruth has. Maybe the even darker side of things is that if I tell the whole just-so story of how it comes to be the case that I yelled at Ruth this morning, it's as much an accumulation of things completely unrelated to her as it is child-rearing-related frustrations. I'm running through a bottle of antacids a week or thereabouts being stressed out about losing my job. I have other professional frustrations. Things have been disrupted because Baltimore can't get its shit together to plow. I worry about Ruth's school. I worry about my parents. There was a homicide literally around the corner from me. Yesterday was the anniversary of a good friend's death.

This raises two importantly disturbing issues, to me.

1. I am clearly capable of restraining manifestations of my anger, even when I feel it very intensely.
2. I am much more likely to restrain it around the people I don't care about as much, who are causing me real problems, than around the people I truly love and care about.

Now, of course, there are reasons for this. Anyone reading this can guess at at least one professional contact I have that I fantasize about screaming every obscenity I know at, jumping up on his furniture, flipping him off with both hands, and maybe setting something on fire. There is a very good reason that not only do I not do all that but I don't even give him a piece of my mind - it would even further damage my career if I did that. I'm sure every person reading this has someone in their professional lives that is just too powerful to piss off, and we all learn restraint of anger and to pick our battles. The flip side of that power is that, not only would yelling at people like that damage our own interests, it likely wouldn't accomplish anything (not that I think yelling at Ruth accomplished much - I don't think she's more likely to get ready in a timely fashion if I yell at her more than if I took a more loving and practical approach, and it's not even like either of us feel better).

But still - what lesson does this send? I fear it is something like "kowtow to those more powerful than you, save your lashing out for the weak and vulnerable." Overblown? I don't know. That's pretty much the only reason I end up yelling at Ruth - I can. There are all sorts of other people in my life who the instinct not to lash out at is so deeply ingrained, I'd never do it, even when totally justified. In reflective moments, I don't think I'm doing it for her own good - and when I do it, it's certainly not a calculated performance; I'm not thinking, "I should yell now, because if she feels like she's getting away with it, she'll do it more," or something. Maybe, if you're being super charitable, it's something like, "I show my true feelings with people in my family, not the false face I show the world - sometimes that is unbridled love, sometimes it is my genuine fear, anger, or frustration." But that certainly wasn't what was in mind when I yelled at her this morning, and I suspect it's just rationalizing back-fill. I have trouble escaping the thought that deep down, I have internalized the norm: fear the powerful, inflict fear on the weak.

What kind of life among other people is that lesson going to prepare her for?

Cui bono?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 2107 - I wish

RUTH: I'm an animal-talent fairy. I know a lot about animals. You're a war-talent-fairy.
ME: That doesn't sound very nice. I don't like war!
RUTH: No, no. You're an ending-wars-talent-fairy. Actually, you're a sparrow man. You have sparrow wings and can fly faster than me.

Kid, I'm sorry I don't live up to your image of me (wings aside).

Day 2107 - Dad and Ruth Don't Go to New York City

Ruth and I were supposed to head up to New York City today, to spend the night at a friend's house, see the museums, and so forth. But... well, we got snowed in.

Since we didn't make it to Alice's Tea Cup this time, we had a tea party of our own at home.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Day 2039: Theology

Ruth and Melissa are watching Prince of Egypt in the background while I grade.

Ruth: Who is that talking to Moses?
Melissa: It's God.
Ruth: Oh, Ra.
Melissa: No, sweetie, that's the Egyptian god. It's the Jewish god talking to him.
Ruth: Oh, right right right. Zeus.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 1911: How Does Second Place Feel Now?

So, about a month ago, after being recruited at a Charm City Roller Girls bout, I started practicing with the Harm City Homicide men's derby team.  It's late on Wednesday nights, so I tell Ruth about it on the way out the door as she's heading up to bed.  She had a lot of fun with her friend Katherine at the CCRG bout, and has wanted to go back, and now is excited that I might be doing it. But I've had to explain to her that I'm part of the team in the sense that I go and practice with them, but I need to get better before I'll actually take part in any bouts.

Which led to her looking me in the eye this morning and very seriously saying: "Daddy, please get very good very soon. I am waiting to see you in a race."