Monday, July 30, 2007

Here's a question—

We had some friends over this weekend — friends we hadn't seen in nearly three years — and we ran into a question that I had thought a little about but hadn't settled. The Boy is four years old now, as is our friends' older girl, and they're old enough to engage adults in a proper way. The four of us (the adults, that is), got to wondering to each exactly what the proper way is these days.

All this was clear when I was The Boy's age. Even close friends of my parents that we saw often were to be called Mr. or Mrs. So-And-So, with a Dr. thrown in when appropriate. Perhaps this stems from many of my parents' friends also providing many of the major services in town, which meant that I always tended to think of them in terms of the principal, the optometrist, the fire chief. No doubt my brother and would have addressed them formally anyway; it was just how things were done.

Now, though, when we talk with Q and The Boy about their friends and their friends' families, we tend to use the first of the adults, and Q and The Boy know them by those names. Our friends this weekend, though, more or less asked us how their kids should address us. And frankly I'm not quite sure. It's not that I'm that uncomfortable with formality — my students tend to call me "professor" or "doctor." I also believe that respect isn't a function of title but instead must be earned (ideally through competence and expertise). Still, having my kids speak formally to adults does sound attractive to me. Etiquette has a lot to do with respecting people as people, which is why my wife and I have worked hard to have our kids be relatively controlled at the meal table, whether in our house or in the house of others.

So I'm torn, then, about how they should ask. Any suggestions? Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Did someone say "Hoboken"?

Have a listen to all four of us saying it. While eating chips. Just click on the (admittedly boring) little movie below.

(The Boy says it first, but Q's version is unmistakable. Frank Sinatra himself is probably smiling down from on high at this very moment.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Across the water

Grandma is in town, so we're looking around for new things to try. While Q naps with Grandma inside, I go out to the park in front to watch The Boy work his new rocket toy (a felt rocket on the end of a pump that he eventually sends up to tree height), and to plot little adventures.

As I passively parent him on the grass, I see commuters breathed in and out by the commuter ferries that stop right in front of our building. The "Squeaky Dock," as we call it for obvious reasons, has been a fixture since we moved down here, despite being basically a floating canvas tent. We spend quite a bit of time there since it has ramps to run up and down and sits out on the water, closer to the big ships and the speed boats. We've never taken a boat from there, though, and the thought strikes me that today should be the day.

It turns out to be easy to do. When Q wakes from her nap, she, The Boy, Grandma (wearing her "Big Honking Shoes"), and I head to the Squeaky Dock for tickets and for the 4:08 ferry to Hoboken. The Boy fidgets with glorious expectation. Our boat docks, and they motor down the ramp for us to board. It's still too early for rush hour, and only a few others join us for the trip. We head up the stairs for a better view of our building and our city.

The river looks even larger when you're out on it, more like a large lake or a small sea. Looking back out towards the harbor, over the left (book) shoulder of the Statue of Liberty, we can see the Verrazano Bridge, beyond which is nothing but Atlantic Ocean. Our park and our building, so familiar that we think of them as ours, look so new from the water — more green, more everything — that the kids need to be re-introduced to them. Q says, "Hello, park."

The ride is short, about ten minutes, but captivating nonetheless. We exit into the New Jersey Transit train station, and it's busy. The trains wait with all doors out, and all sorts of commuters have started to make their way home. We head against the flow through the station outside to the walk along the Hudson on the Jersey side. Right before a large rectangle of grass begins running out towards the river, we're surprised to find kids soaking themselves in a powerful fountain. The Boy asks straight away if he can take off his shirt, which is a good idea since we came without towels or extra clothes (or anything at all actually). I pull Q's shirt off, too, and they work themselves into the erupting water. (Now and then The Boy "helps" Q by giving her a little push, as you can see in the blog header.) By the time we leave, there's not a dry spot on either of them.

Dinner time looms, so Grandma and I eventually manage to coax them over to the dry benches. I have to wring out their clothes. On the way back through the train station, Grandma does what Grandmas do and buys them candy. As we bounce on the small waves over to our Squeaky Dock, Q and The Boy can barely eat their Twizzlers because they can't stop smiling. Today has always been there across the water; I'm glad we finally went to claim it.

And now we get to hear Q say "Hoboken" whenever we want.

(Note: I still plan on doing the job series soon, but I wanted to get a little post in about Grandma's nice visit. Tune in again soon.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Okay, so a little bit more about getting older — or on "Being Adult"

As I was putting black bars over the faces of my erstwhile classmates from the 1970's, I began some thinking about "Being An Adult."

Adulthood has many markers, one big one being a Recognizable Job. One of the first questions asked when people meet, after all, is "What do you do?."

I've been an academic of one sort or another for over ten years now — first as a graduate student, then as a graduate student and undergraduate teacher, then (after earning my PhD) exclusively as a publishing/aspiring academic and undergraduate lecturer, in search of a tenure-track teaching job. Soon I will start my position as a university administrator, which is something altogether different.

My Lovely Wife has been a full-fledge lawyer now for nearly ten years. The professional lives and responsibilities of lawyers and academics differ in radical and significant ways, but they do have one thing in common: Many people, I would guess, have conceptions of what people who have these jobs do in them. And, I would guess, most people (who don't themselves do these things), are wrong. I, myself, have a rather vague notion of what my wife does during her desk hours, and I'm privy to inside knowledge. (And snazzy TV shows like Law & Order don't help — she's a corporate attorney and not a litigator prone to courtroom histrionics.)

But I'd bet that most people don't really know what an academic's life is like, particularly a young one trying to make his way in American higher education. So as I'm preparing to leave academia in one form for another, I thought I'd dedicate a series of posts to talking about what I did with my days until this year. It'll be therapeutic for me, and might actually be interesting for you. Let me apologize in advance if it proves otherwise.

More to come, then.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Happy Birthday to, um, me.

(obligatory childhood photo: me circa 1979)

I'm 37 today. That's a number somewhere between Getting Up There and Not Really That Old. I don't feel that senescent, really, but I do have two little people who call me "Daddy" and expect me to answer, which is enough to age anyone, I suppose. And any birthday over, say, 31 lends itself to easy math, such as when The Boy leaves for college (which I'm sure he will, despite idiotic speculation to the contrary), I'll be 51. I can't decide whether that's old--which means that it probably is.

Speaking of old, my son has so nicely noticed and pointed out to our nanny:
"Sometimes dad goes somewhere and he doesn't remember why he went there."
He's right, you know; I do that sometimes. But I've done that for a while now. (I can't remember for how long, of course.)

But as my father pointed out to me today, 37 or even 51 isn't that old. When I'm 51, he'll be 81. And my mother claims that I'll still be young when my kids leave home. I hope so. (That they leave home, that is.)

Still, when the thunder nudged Q out of bed this morning and into ours, I truly did enjoy the "Happy Birthday, Dad" she gave me--even if some coaching may have been involved.

And the carrot cake my Lovely Wife brought home wasn't too bad, too.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my lovely wife's birthday. For nine wonderful days we are the same age. Which is to say, old.

Though she is a bit taller these days, she's just as cute as she was all those many years ago.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Whose America?

WE'VE re-fitted the entire day around the fireworks. The kids usually go to bed around 8 p.m. or so (though Q has still been coming out routinely until 9:30 sometimes), and the various local displays supposedly launch at 9:15. The Boy has already promised to nap in exchange for staying up. Q says that she doesn't want to watch them--too scary--but we want to keep her up to give her the option just the same, and we let her sleep extra long in the afternoon just in case.

The Fourth means lots of different things to different people, and with kids the focus tends to drift toward the sensorial. Still, my Lovely Wife and I note that for breakfast we eat blueberry scones with what we call "cappuccinos" (kid-friendly frothed milk in tiny cups). For lunch the kids have lo mein with tofu (my wife and I eat leftover Indian food), and my wife makes enchiladas for dinner. Our babysitter is from Poland; most of those who work in our apartment building are either Irish or Eastern European. The playgrounds and parks host enough languages to make the U.N. blush. This city, in many ways like this country, is truly international in its nationality.

The Boy and Q do nap well, after a longer day outside under thunderheads menacing over the river. The rain finally starts when what passed for sunlight today starts to fade, but NY1, the local news channel, assures us that only a fierce electrical storm will squelch the festivities. About 9 p.m. or so, we head up to our building's roof deck. The really big show, the one conspicuously sponsored by Macy's and shown on NBC in high definition, gets thrown on the East Side, which means that we can't really see that much from where we sit this far west. Still, from 19 floors up looking over the Hudson, you can usually spot close to a dozen smaller displays up and down New Jersey, culminating in a reasonably big show over Liberty State Park a little upriver (towards us) from the Statue of Liberty.

In the soft rain, the first rockets go up to bloom like a half-dozen great ideas striking at once. Q, having practiced all day at being scared of the fireworks, buries her head in my neck. I pivot to give her a chance to see how harmless they are, probably a mile or so away across the wide river and nearly noiseless at this distance. She flips her head to my other shoulder like a squirrel keeping the tree between itself and what bothers it, so I don't press things. Eventually, she asks for mom and for inside. (Once inside, she won't even watch them on TV.)

I go over by The Boy so that he doesn't have to hold an umbrella while he watches. The river is a constellation of lights from small boats. He meets every explosion with one of his own: "It's a red one!" "That one looks like a flower!" "How do they make them in a heart shape?!?" He doesn't want me to answer; just listen. I'm happy to. He can stand and see over the roof deck railing this year. He manages to keep up his excitement for about forty minutes until the finale, made up of more explosions than I can keep track of. When the sky finally does go black, all the boats sound their horns in applause. I don't need any light to see The Boy's smile.

The Macy's spectacular is still discharging. We can see the ruby glow to the northeast and the southeast, so I suggest to The Boy that we go to the other side of the roof deck to take in what we can. The other spectators from our building return to their apartments and their drinks, and we're left more or less alone high up in the air. Through the gap in the skyline where the Twin Towers used to loom, we can glimpse the crowns of fireworks over on the East River by the Brooklyn Bridge, but the gap and the sounds and the colors remind me too much of new wars rather than the old one being represented above us. When The Boy says he'd rather go in and check on Q, I quickly agree.

It's late. Q is already in her pajamas when we arrive. The Boy talks a stream as we urge him into his sleep clothes--pajama bottoms and one of my wife's many black t-shirts. Before bed, we always sing a song. Often, we sing "Happy Birthday" to Snowman (it's a Q thing; don't ask). Tonight, we decide it's fitting to sing "Happy Birthday" to America. After we finish, as I turn out the light and turn to leave the kids to sleep, The Boy asks, "Who's America?" Good question.

Happy Fourth, everyone.