She just got home, and I’m on alert, wondering when the fireworks are going to begin. No, it’s not July 4th, and no, the kids won’t be excited to watch, but they’re coming nonetheless. They always come.
At first it’s a low simmer, like a pot just starting to warm up on the stove. Then it begins to roil. The shaking of the head, the rolling back of the shoulders, like bracing for a storm. And I do everything I can every single time to try and anticipate what it’s going to be, when it’s going to hit, and how best to adjust myself to absorb the blow I know is coming. None of it matters.
You see, we’re boarders here, and at a moment’s notice the bookshelf I got used to seeing one place can be in another, my clothes can tiptoe their way into another closet, and what was okay for where to place my footwear yesterday isn’t okay today. Because things shift here, and I feel like I will never know the code.
Did I close the door? Is it shut hard enough? Did I use the plate I wasn’t supposed to use? Is it okay to leave this light on if I’m returning to the room in a few moments? And the laundry situation I don’t think I’ll ever know. I’m almost ready to just load up a few piles of clothing and visit the village laundromat three minutes’ time away. I think I’d rather do that than ask if the washing machine is free for me to use.
It’s not her fault either. I mean, it’s her house, and she’s graciously let us stay here, but the fallout from it is what’s downright depressing. It’s what has come after the invitation, after the move. Now that we’re here it’s about control — making sure every little thing is the way she wants it. Because it’s her home, and we must never forget it. Because she likes things a certain way and we must adapt or be consumed under the weight of the change.
I’m learning to adapt. I swear I am. In bits and pieces.
No, seriously. She’s been weird before, but this is altogether different, a walk on the wild side so intense she won’t stop zooming back and forth and meowing plaintively. And it’s understandable, too, since the only home she has ever known is gone, and she’s been transported to this brand new house along with the rest of our family. I feel her pain, too, but all I can do is keep freshening her water bowl and hoping that eventually makes a difference.
This is Week 2, and while things are more put together here at the museum I still have no idea where to find most things I need. And that’s not for lack of trying either. Today I went in search of the pizza cutter, so I started in our makeshift dining room, made my way into our makeshift kitchen, and then ended up in the real kitchen, but to no avail. Eventually I was forced to extricate the pizza from the oven without having the cutter. Just when I was about to grab a large kitchen knife to jaggedly rip it apart I saw the pizza cutter. It was in a container on the back of the stove.
I sighed at that moment because that would have been the obvious place, of course. Just then the cat flew into the kitchen on a puff of air, emitting a noise that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. I poured her a fresh dish of water, set it down on the floor near her head, and walked out of the room. The pizza would have to wait until I figured out the laundry system, and hopefully found a pair of pants for tomorrow.
As hard as I find it to believe it’s nevertheless true. I wake up and I’m still here. It wasn’t just a dream after all. We live here, on one side of a massive house that we’re cobbling together to try and make our own, at least for the several months we will occupy it.
My six-year-old summed up the feeling accurately tonight. “Go home,” she said, and it ’bout near broke my heart, because I knew she wanted to return to the house we no longer call home. And I don’t know how to make her realize this is where we live now, that this isn’t just a three-night thing, that we’re boarders in someone else’s home.
I don’t know how to make myself realize that we are boarders in someone else’s home.
But I do know how I feel being here — as if the other shoe could drop at any moment. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I don’t want to mess anything up, to do anything that would upset the queen bee of this hive. Yes, “walking on eggshells” definitely qualifies in this instance.
You see, this queen bee likes things a certain way, and if they don’t go that way there could be hell to pay. No, I don’t mean she’ll yell at me, but the silent stare, the subtle knife digging in, it’s much worse than a simple rebel yell. In my house I didn’t feel judged by everything I did, like I couldn’t set something down without that shadow hovering above me at all times.
And I know some of it is definitely me. I need to adjust to living in a place I don’t own, being a part of a larger household that shifts and shimmies like an amoeba fighting for relevance in a 2-dimensional world. But it’s been four days, and I am still in mourning. Maybe next week.
It’s my sister’s birthday tomorrow, and I don’t know what to get her. I’ve known her my whole life, so I know the things she likes. I know the things she treasures. And I know what I want to get her on her birthday. The only problem is that since I’ve known her my whole life, and because I know her so well, I’ve already gotten her all the things I can think of, and then some. I’ve done the sentimental gift, the expensive gift, the quirky gift, and everything in between, so now, on the occasion of her 40th I honestly have no idea.
And it’s killing me.
Maybe I should have saved up all those ideas that I utilized between 30 and now, all the cards and boxes wrapped in pink and blue, all the pictures in photo albums, all the random but personal heartfelt presents, in the hopes of giving her something hugely personal and intricately special. You know, to match the importance of the occasion. But I didn’t save them up, and maybe I wouldn’t have anyway, knowing as I do now how her face lit up with each one. So now I’m stuck in the same place I was at when I began.
What to get her?
I could go traditional and pick up something that appeals to one of her hobbies. She has enough of those that it could work. Except that I’ve given her something for each one at some point in the not too far off past. I could go the minimalist route and get her a “choose her own adventure” gift card to the store I know she frequents most. At least I know she will get use out of it, but it’s so impersonal. Or I could go all newfangled and surprise her with some type of latest electronic equipment. While it would scream “I cost a lot,” is that what I want her to think when I give it to her?
So I’ve decided to write her a letter, an old-fashioned letter like we used to do in the olden days, like she still writes me now and again. And I know she would absolutely adore a handwritten letter from me, one I took my time on, one that I dropped off in the mail by hand and that took its time getting to her. I know she would appreciate every single word, regardless of what those words actually say. It’s been ages since I wrote a real letter, since I got behind this computer screen and got back down to business.
For the past year my oldest child had asked over and over again when she could go to New York City, and over and over again we’ve answered, “We’ll get there at some point.” Of course the mythical “some point” just seemed to get pushed further into the future each time she asked, and finally we figured it was either now or never. So we put the wheels in motion, figured out a day when we could go, got the logistics in order, and today was that “some point.” It was incredible.
Now, I’ve been to New York City many times before, but each time is something special, and the last time was nearly 10 years ago, so this time was even more incredible, especially since I was finally seeing it through the eyes of my children.
The first decision we had to make was how we were going to get to the city that never sleeps. The options were:
(1) Driving in
(2) Taking the train in
(3) Some kind of mixture
Now, if you’ve ever driven in NYC then you know no one wants to drive in NYC, and we were no exception. We would have spent half of our time either driving the streets aimlessly looking for a parking spot (and getting honked at), or parking in a ridiculously expensive parking garage and still having to brave the traffic in and out.
So my wife came up with #3, which required renting a vehicle here in Philadelphia, driving it to Newark, and taking the Transit Train into the city, then doing the reverse to get back to the city of brotherly love. Not only was this option by far the cheapest, but it kept us out of the traffic of the city and kept us flexible if we had to stop along the way for restroom usage and the like.
Then there we were, in New York City, in that Empire State of Mind. Now, we live in New York State, but The City is a whole other animal indeed. It’s like living in Florida but never going to Disney, and when you finally get there it’s better than you’ve ever dreamed.
Our destination was the Empire State Building because Alexa would make a darn good engineer. A while ago what first sparked her interest in world buildings was a book given to her by my wife’s boss that pictured and detailed several prominent architecturally famous world structures, among them the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, and of course the Empire State Building. She was fascinated by every single one, and memorized their details, so desperate she was to keep them in her mind.
Because we live in New York State it seemed only natural that we would make it our first stop on the world tour, but because we live far upstate it wasn’t practical to try and make a day trip out of the ride that is a little over 4 hours from where we live. It made a lot more sense to come visit my mother in Philadelphia, and have her come with us. And that’s just what we did, turning it into a wider family trip that included not only my mother but also my nephew, who is home from college for the summer.
So we left New York to go to New York. Go figure.
But then came the mind-numbing wait. If you’ve ever been to the Empire State Building before then you know what sort of long lines await you if you’re not willing to pay the exorbitant prices to go to the head of the line and straight to the heavenly elevators. At first the two young children were just fine, even though we had to cut into a never-ending line of middle schoolers on a field trip to the great edifice. But as the hands on the clock kept moving and we seemed no closer to actually getting to the famed 86th Floor Observation Deck, the natives became restless. So I took some pictures along the way, in what my wife described as “the neverending line.”
Then, after about an hour and 20 minutes of waiting we were finally herded into one of the illustrious elevators like sheep, slammed up against other tourists from all over the world, and whisked up to the 86th floor, and to the observation deck that also awaited. Alexa was just worn out by then, but when she saw the open-air deck she was in her element, floating on cloud 9. We went out and the wind was brisk high up there. Luckily for us it wasn’t raining at that point, so we were able to look far out, and far down (which freaked my wife out), and there were a series of “Oohs” and “Ahhs” that seemed to go on forever as she pointed out one building after another. “That’s the Chrysler building, isn’t it?” she asked me at one point, and I was again amazed at how much she files away in that brain of hers.
And around we went. Alexa just couldn’t get enough of all of the myriad views afforded to us from up so high. The heights didn’t affect her one whit, although my wife had to retire inside after just a few minutes with Madeline. I was on duty, though, pointing out each building and trying to help her see the islands far out to sea.
We took a ton of pictures, not many of which actually came out great, but what I noticed most were the sheer numbers of people up on the observation deck, not the buildings down below. They were speaking a plethora of different languages, some of which were familiar to my ear and some of which weren’t. I guess I realized for the first time how big these famous landmarks truly are. I should have gotten it while in the long lines waiting to get up there, but somehow what was transpiring on the deck was more symbolic.
But we were one big organism up there, moving around each other like dancing amoebas in a petri dish, pausing for photographs, then moving seamlessly past while nodding acknowledgement at each other. It was a special bonding moment, even though we said few words to each other. I took a lot more pictures down below to commemorate the moment.
It was such a wonderful feeling to know that we were able to give that to Alexa, that we finally made one of her dreams come true, and she was ecstatic as we rode the elevator back down to the lobby, with a small stop at the gift shop to get some commemorative t-shirts for her and her sister. We were exhausted from the wait, but it had been well worth it, just to say that we were there, that we did it as a family. There were walls of photographs on our way out of celebrities posing at the railing or elsewhere in the famous building, but while it was great to see those familiar faces, the best ones were the smiling ones of my real family after a brilliant day in the big city.
Minutes into our first performance we lost our guitar player. That would have spelled disaster for any other rock band out there, but it was just a blip on our radar screen. You know, because the guitar player is 6 years old, and she felt that playing Temple Run on her iPad was preferable to being a rock goddess.
Oh well. The 9 year old drums player more than made up for the guitar’s absence by nearly breaking her sticks pounding the heck of out of the drums to the tune of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” That’s just how we roll on a slow Sunday afternoon.
And me, I’m the singer. Maybe I would have been the guitar player if Madeline hadn’t staked her claim to the job early (and then threw it down in favor of Angry Birds… I mean Temple Run). Besides, Alexa wanted me to be the singer, even if she spends the majority of most of our jams yelling at her drums, or the screen, or both, saying “DON’T FAIL ME. DON’T FAIL ME.” She reminds me of a young Phil Collins wailing on the drums with wild abandon, and the same sense of ferocity she brings to every single endeavor. Sometimes I wish I had more of that in me.
Our first song was “I Think I’m Paranoid,” by Garbage, chosen solely because it’s the song I know the best, and Alexa didn’t want us to have a poor experience right off the bat. Thanks, kid. I’m sure some parts of it were not quite good anyway, though, as evidenced by the neighbors looking at me awkwardly through the open window. I’m sure I would have heard some boos if I wasn’t screaming so loudly and so out of tune. I’m starting to rethink my application for an audition on The Voice. That thought was totally unrelated to my performance, of course. Alexa claims I was amazing.
That’s the glory of Rock Band, though, isn’t it? When you play with your kids anyway. Because even somebody like me, who loves music but has absolutely no sense of how to sing in tune or with good pitch (okay, sometimes I can sing okay as long as I’m not trying to match anyone’s tone or pitch) can front a Rock Band and feel good about doing it. Okay, so I’m no Bono, but I’d like to think I can still kick Vince Neil’s ass Beavis-style. Even if I really can’t. And now I’m nursing my voice with a little bit of Earl Grey tea because even a rock star needs a little pampering after a strong gig.
Oh yeah, and the former guitar player is still telling me to be quiet long after I’ve stopped singing. Maybe that should tell me something. It’s telling me that I should sing Radiohead’s “Creep” next. Yeah, that’s it.