Another week has come and gone. It’s startling how little time it seems to take to move from Sunday to Sunday. Part of the motivation behind our recent weekend roundup posts is an attempt to be more deliberate in taking note of the contents of our lives, hoping that looking back on recent happenings might help them find a sturdier place in our memories.
As some of you know, Robbi and Alden have both gotten serious lately about Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial arts form practiced by Robbi’s Dancing With the Stars partner Mark Pagano. Saturday was the big end of year picnic and promotion ceremony. We were to eat some hot dogs in the sunshine and Robbi was to be presented with her yellow belt in recognition of her promotion to the rank of 9th gup.
When we got to the picnic, the Tang Soo Do-ers were practicing their forms.
August was stunned.
All his life, has known is mother as a loving, gentle giver of life.
Suddenly she was a nimble ninja who could break your wrist with a casual glance. The contrast was so jarring that he needed a change of scenery. So we wandered down to the water to give him some time to process.
In no time, he found a fishing pole.
And proceeded to use it.
When Alden finished practicing her forms, she came down to join us by the water.
Eventually the aforementioned hot dogs happened.
As well as some badminton. In our actual game play, the BAD was emphasized, and so I will limit the photographic illustration of this sad stretch of the day’s events to this shot of Robbi posing alluringly with her racquet. Which matches her shirt, if you hadn’t noticed.
After hot dogs, Alden conned some older kids in to giving her a tour of the swimming pool while pretending to be a queen.
Good work, if you can get it.
Later that night, to quench a sudden craving, August helped me shop for seltzer.
This is a recap of our week. I didn’t say that all of it was exciting.
On Sunday, we got up early and headed to the Baltimore Zoo. The occasion was Iris’s birthday party. Iris is now five. This, too, is startling. The last five years of Iris’s life have passed about as quickly as this week has passed, which is to say, without my even noticing.
August spent the entire party climbing up this yellow ladder. By Robbi’s count, he scaled it 31 times.
Kato spent the entire time consulting his zoo map. His goal was to see the polar bears, and yet, all he could find was the playground. It was galling. He grew increasingly agitated.
But then the cake was served, and the agitation evaporated. Cake is amazing in this way.
After the cake, we were off. To explore the zoo in style. Alden and the birthday girl set off in search of adventure.
The first stop was the tram that took us to the far end of the zoo.
Before we got to the polar bears, we took a detour into the petting zoo.
The petting was a big hit, especially with August, who almost never meets anyone shorter than he is.
He begged us to let him bring the baby goat home.
But when we said no, he contented himself with whispering sweet nothings into the ear of any goat that would listen. Apparently, goats have very low standards, so August made a lot of new friends.
Like cake, goats are awesome.
As are polar bears.
The zoo has a train. It takes you on a short loop through the trees.
Kato loves the train. I almost wished that I had made him choose between eating cake and riding on the train. It would have been fun to see the internal conflict play itself out.
As it was, he got to ride on the train and eat his cake, too.
It was that kind of day.
As I was saying, trains are great. But, apparently, I make an even better conveyance.
But perhaps not quite as good as a lion? the kids loved sitting on the lion.
I said, the kids loved sitting on the lion.
Here’s my advice. If at first the claim you want to make is refuted by the photograph, simply take more photographs. Eventually (as with the infinite monkey theorem, which states that if you give a monkey sufficient time, he will eventually write Hamlet), the exact photo you desire will come along.
It just might take a while.
Our kids are constantly put under the lens. The camera lens, that is. If it’s not the camera lens, it’s the iphone lens. All three kids have done some extensive documentary photography themeselves using the phone – we’ve found megabytes and megabytes of images after the phone has disappeared for a while. (I’m sure we are not alone in this).
But this week Kato got his hands on the actual camera, our Canon SLR. He started out, not surprisingly, with a photo of his co-conspirator in all things:
She upped the mug factor in photo number two:
At that point, apparently, I discovered he was using the camera:
After a few stern words about holding it carefully and a short tutorial on how to use the camera (which he obviously did not need) I set him to work taking photos – curious about what he would choose to photograph.
Apparently, the first thing one wants to record, given the opportunity, is one’s bookshelf.
Then, one’s toy airplane, which has fallen out of favor in recent times. Ah, nostalgia photography:
Then, of course, one’s backpack.
Once you’re done with the detritus on the floor, it’s a good idea to capture the state of the light fixtures:
And then the outlets, of course:
And finally, the wall anchor for a screw for a picture that is no longer hanging on the wall because various children at various stages would remove it and toss it unceremoniously to the floor:
Obviously a paean to times gone by, to the glorious olden days of unheralded triumphs over cross-stitch.
I was starting to wonder about his framing skills and lack of subjective focus. I must, frankly, admit that I was unimpressed. I considered taking the camera away from him and telling him to stop wasting his time and get back to the things he’s good at, like eating cherry tomatoes and pushing his brother to the ground.
But then he took this picture:
Which might just be my favorite picture of his sister, who most often looks at the camera with a weird plastered on semi-smile.
I suppose Kato was just exercising that skill that kids are really the best at: surprising you just after you’ve finally given up.
After what has been the longest, coolest, most comfortable and least sticky spring in the history of my life in Chestertown, it’s finally that time of year again – the peonies in front of the barn have bloomed!
We mark this time of year with a photo of the kids in front of the gigantic, beautiful blooms. Its a fun little marker of the time going by.
This year, 2013:
August’s first year in the mix, 2012:
Alden and Kato, 2011:
Kato’s debut, 2010:
Alden was in KC when the peonies bloomed, no photo, 2009. (In retrospect, this makes me so sad! No more spring trips, I guess.)
Alden’s first year, 2008:
If having kids has done nothing else for us, it has reminded us to stop at least once a year to smell the flowers.
As previously mentioned, August is now old enough to ride a bike. Or at least ride on a bike. Just don’t try to convince him that he’s not actually steering the thing.
Confident that we knew what we were doing after a controlled experiment the day before, we headed out for a longer ride, this time on Quaker Neck Road, away from town. At Lover’s Lane, we took a right hand turn, and found ourselves surrounded by trees.
I love Chestertown, its history and its proximity to the water, but I miss being surrounded by woods as was so often the case in New England. That ride down Lover’s Lane gave me a journey back to the center of my soul.
It made all of us happy. We stopped to pause a minute in the stillness of it all.
We found ourselves on one side of a ditch with “umbrella plants” on the other.
After gauging the width of the divide, the kids thought it worth the risk of jumping across.
The coveted umbrella plants were obtained.
And though it wasn’t raining, both of them felt just a bit more secure.
Alden brought hers along for the ride.
Baby August, who fears not rain, declined to jump over the ditch.
It was a magnificent afternoon.
And we were there among the trees in that magical moment when the light started to turn.
There may be no greater pleasure than riding through woods with one’s family in tow.
Along the way, we found a path pointing us toward Libby’s Nature Trail, a thing we’d never heard about in our six plus years in Chestertown.
We came to a fork and took the lefthand path. We rode until the road became a lake.
And so we took the other path and rode until we found a map. There we were, apparently.
We kept on until we ran into “the ditch.” To be fair, it had been marked on the map.
August confidently piloted us out of the woods and back onto asphalt.
We had another decision to make.
It was getting cold, so we pointed toward home. The light was continuing to grow more saturated, ever closer to the color of butter.
It was one of those perfect outings.
The world looked like a landscape painting.
We stopped to find two trees in conversation.
We stopped to admire our shadows.
The fields were ochre and the sky was blue.
Somehow, August knew exactly where to go.
As we inched toward home, the light began to fall.
We stopped on a rise above the reservoir, another discovery, and then we coasted down the hill and rode home along the river.
The conclusion: there is fun to be had on the back of a bicycle. But it helps when you live in a beautiful place and the light is just right.
If you don’t know already, I love parades. Love them. There is something so earnest and pure about parades. I mean, it takes a lot of work to put together a parade, and I’m not really sure what they’re supposed to be for, other than a general sort of community feel-gooded-ness. At least that’s the idea in our small town. Mom was also a huge fan of parades, so I think a lot of my fondness is also tied up in that.
So, on Sunday when Matthew heard the drums drumming, he yelled out to me from the other room, “Quick! There’s a parade!” We are lucky to live 100 feet from the parade route, so we don’t even need to plan ahead.
So I grabbed up the kids and we headed out.
It turns out, it wasn’t a parade after all. It was just parade practice.
I had forgotten – parades usually only happen on Saturdays. Sundays are practice days for the community marching band. We caught up with them in front of Paul’s Shoe Store and across from the town clock. This is where the grandstand is and where certain band-related trickiness happens, like stopping and starting and turning to salute the important folk in the grandstand. Drum major/clerk of court Mark Mumford put the band through the paces:
while the cheerful majorettes smiled for the camera.
Kato did not enjoy the hubub:
but August hoped he might be next in line for the drum major job:
What I like about Chestertown is that in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday, as the marching band retreated down High Street (the main street in town):
this is what it looked like in the other direction:
And while the band was practicing 3/4 turns in front of the imaginary grandstand for 15 minutes, a few cars pulled up behind the band and waited patiently for them to be done. And, after a while, when nobody moved (because they were practicing 3/4 turns under the eagle eye of their fearless leader), the cars just slowly crept by on the far side of the street.
I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen during practice for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
As the band marched down High Street toward the water, the kids tried to keep pace.
Unfortunately, Alden and Kato had to wait for me and August, the deadweights, to cross the street. This set them back enough that we were way behind when the band turned the corner onto Water Street.
Luckily, they ran into Doug the Baker and Michael Baker (for some reason Michael doesn’t get a “the,” though he is as much of a “the Baker” as Doug is) who were happy to keep them company on the corner, waiting for the band to return.
Eventually the band turned around and marched back on by:
past the old Custom House and on up Water Street. The other thing I love about Chestertown is that even our disaffected skateboarding youth can get into following the parade around town:
Once the practice parade had completely passed us by, Alden and Kato both stood up indignantly. “There wasn’t any candy at this parade!” I guess not everyone goes to a parade to enjoy the down-home wholesomeness of community morale-building. Luckily, sun buns, apparently, are a fair alternative, so Doug the Baker opened up the bakery and treated us each to a sun bun.
Now THAT’S what I call down-home wholesome community morale-building.
The weekend started off with a bounce.
And about five hundred more that followed.
Chestertown was at its festive best. Free (and endless) bouncing was to be had via a colorful inflatable parked in the courthouse lawn.
I was asked to take care of Alden’s tiara while she jumped herself silly.
I forgot it was there as we walked around town and talked to various adult people over the next half hour or so. No wonder no one here takes me seriously.
After bouncing, we dropped the kids off with our friends Donald and Ann and hit the road. Our destination, Washington. Along the way, we stopped for a nutritious meal.
Runners prepare for a challenge by eating carbs. Robbi gets ready with char-broiled beef.
It was a gorgeous day. The sky was blue and the bay was calm.
Our spirits were high as we drove across the bridge.
Our GPS routed us around traffic into parts of DC we’d never seen before.
Our destination was DC’s preeminent independent bookstore, Politics and Prose
It was exciting to see our books on display at the front of the store.
It was exciting to see our friend/subscriber/fan? Lindsay show up early to say hello and browse the back catalog.
And it was exciting to gaze out from the podium at 3:20pm, wondering whether we’d have more than one person in attendance when we started speaking ten minutes later.
As it turned out, we had more than one peson. But somewhat fewer than 300, which is, apparently, the standing room capacity of P&P events.
We were delighted with the happy medium, a blend of old friends and new faces. We gave our talk, we read our latest Idiots’Book The World in Love, and we answered a few questions. We would have kissed babies or signed body parts if anyone had asked us to. Alas, nobody asked us to.
We were pleased to reunite with our friend Sarah Baline who oversees events for P&P and with whom we spent a soggy (but thrilling) day at Crafty Bastards a few years back.
After the show, we headed out with our friends (including Alden’s pal Iris) for dinner.
At one point, I threatened to eat Iris’s chicken fingers, which looked far more delicious than my fish tacos.
Iris made it clear that it wasn’t going to happen.
A belly full of fish tacos, we drove home again across the bridge, and collapsed into bed.
Today was cold in Chestertown, surprisingly so. We have told you before about our family excursions on which I push August in a jogging stroller while Robbi piles Kato and Alden onto a frankenstein bike. Wondering if August had gotten big enough to handle himself in a bike-mounted booster seat, we ordered another and set to modifying our bikes to accommodate the new setup.
Of course, we needed a helmet for him as well. At first, I wondered if they would make helmets small enough for his head.
And then I remembered that his head is the size of a planet and wondered if they would have one large enough.
As it turns out, they did, big helmets for big-headed kids, labeled as such.
While Robbi and I worked with the wrenches, Alden wrote lovely messages on the sidewalk.
I wonder what it is they want from me? A raise in allowance? The keys to the car? Whatever it is, I’m game. This kind of thing makes my heart melt in a great big puddle.
The love was well-timed. I needed a little lift. It took us about two hours and many misfires to work out all the mechanics and hardware. I’m sure it shouldn’t have been as complicated as it seemed at the time, but I’m a writer, forgodsake.
All the while, Iggy watched from the bushes, doing her best to blend in to her unnatural environment.
And then, finally, it was time for our first ride.
We did a lap around Wilmer Park and then took the bike path to the end. On the way back, we drove through the College.
And back through town, Kato between my legs and Alden behind.
Robbi had August on the other bike.
And so it is confirmed: we have officially graduated to the point where we can go on longish bike rides together. Today was but a glimpse of the adventuring to come.
Not a bad weekend. A very good one, in fact.
After an early morning airport shuttle.
And a 50-minute security line.
And final high-fives.
And heartfelt farewells.
And triumphant marches.
And careful review of emergency evacuation procedures.
And pre-flight snacks.
And unexpected help from an unexpected source.
We all were treated to an exuberant reunion.
I got a hug, too, but no one bothered to take a picture.
Alden is back in school this morning. The boys are with their buddy Ann. Robbi and I are back at our desks. And Iggy is pacing nervously by the window.
It’s so good to be home. I think I’ll stay for a while.
One of the things you’re supposed to do when you’re a father is plan appropriate holiday celebrations for your children. Presents at Christmastime. Costumes at Halloween. And colorful, hidden eggs to discover on Easter.
It is with great shame to confess that this was the best I could do last Sunday morning.
The eggs in question were neither hidden nor colorful. I figured that August, being still small and unsophisticated, might give me a pass.
Not so. If he had a working grasp of expletives, I’m sure I would have heard them.
In my defense, we were stuck in a motel in Nebraska. In my defense, by the time my second child was ready for breakfast, I was able to provide. He said he wanted pizza and there was still a slice left over from our feast the night before.
While I praised myself for being such a solid provider, August retaliated by pulling all the wipes out of the diaper bag.
Disgusted with myself and deciding that a change of scenery was in order, we got in the car and drove back to Kansas City.
Where we found joy by rolling down a hill.
And strutting about in new clothes.
And taking a bath.
And lounging in the sunlight.
As far as I can tell, the kids have no idea that Easter was supposed to have happened, so Robbi and I may just re-stage the whole affair when I get back to Chestertown next week. Just so you’re not surprised if you see the Easter Bunny on Queen Street.
Friday morning began with a bit of baseball in the driveway at Dad’s house.
And a few laps around the house. According to Alden, the rocks were islands and the space between a river. Naturally, the point was to keep from getting one’s feet wet.
And then we drove north through Missouri. Our destination, Nebraska. By way of Iowa.
Part of Missouri was on fire.
Eventually we made it to Nebraska, seat of the good life and home of Arbor Day. It hardly seems fair that one state should be so blessed.
Our specific destination was Fremont, where my grandma lives. Our even more specific destination was the Sleep Inn. Kato helped me pull the suitcases.
And then helped me test the beds.
They are, apparently, sufficiently bouncy.
Next, we headed to my grandmother’s house, where, apparently, nothing happened in 1897.
Yesterday, however, something wonderful happened. Grandma shared with Alden the doll she had when she was Alden’s age, and the trunk full of handmade outfits her mother made for her back then.
I spent an anxious hour trying to keep my small children from breaking things, including themselves.
Why do children so love playing on the stairs? The question is rhetorical.
Fortunately, they also enjoy riding on shoulders.
I posted a three generation shot the other day. Here is one with four.
Back in our hotel room that night, we watched basketball, lamenting Kansas’s late-game collapse and celebrating Duke’s gritty win over Michigan State.
Some of us cheered harder than others.
Saturday morning, the kids enjoyed continental breakfast in our motel room.
Followed by the world’s largest cinnamon roll at a nearby diner.
And perhaps the world’s finest breakfast burrito. Stuffed with pulled pork. Say what you will about Nebraska (and I hope you will say that it is a magnificent place), they sure do know how to cure a hunger.
Next we hit the old-school playground in the town park. I’ve driven past it many times over the years and never thought to stop. But now I have children. It’s funny how that changes things.
Now that he can walk and climb, August has adopted a fearless approach to just about everything.
The big kids were delighted by the merry-go-round, which have been summarily excised from all of the playgrounds they frequent back home. Probably for reasons of peril and expensive insurance. But they sure did have a good time.
Back at Grandma’s house, we admired a lock of Dad’s hair, and those of his three brothers.
And I admired my namesake swan in Grandma’s sitting room window. It is a habit among we Swanson’s to collect swans for our homes. I’ve yet to acquire mine.
Next we headed to the outskirts of Fremont for a surprise birthday party for my dad’s brother Mark and his wife Donna. Both of them are turning 60 this year. There was cake.
There was merriment.
And there were mud balls. Alden, Kato, and their new friend Riley spent the better part of an hour making remarkable mud balls. Why they did it, I do not know. I did not ask and they did not say.
It was the first time that all the cousins of my generation have been together in more than ten years.
And here are my dad and his mom and his brothers. The Swansons are a fine group of people. I’m proud to count myself among their ranks.
And although we were officially celebrating birthdays, today just happened to be my Dad and Judy’s 17th wedding anniversary.
As the sun set, Dad threw Kato a few more pitches.
Then Uncle Jeff helped Kato ignite a little March Madness of his own. I’d like to tell you the ball went through the hoop.
Not to be outdone, August took his best shot. It was a fitting end to a wonderful day.
Tomorrow we head back to Kansas City, doing our best to continue the kids’ geographic confusion.
Every time we pull into our motel parking lot, Kato asks me if we’re back in Chestertown. Apparently, the tractor dealership next door reminds him of home. And I have to say there are some similarities between what one finds on the Eastern Shore and in the nation’s heartland.
I just wish it were the breakfast burritos.
As has been documented, the kids and I are in Missouri. Which is not to be mistaken for being in misery. Quite the opposite. Missouri is quite nice, especially when one is staying at my Dad and Judy’s house, which is entirely surrounded by trees and has lots of nice windows through which to gaze upon them.
Alden and Kato, being on East Coast time, decided to get up quite early yesterday morning.
This might have been miserable if the grandparents hadn’t been so prepared. Two bowls of shredded mini wheat and a handful of blueberries later, and all was well.
The kids felt incredibly welcome.
Welcome to make art.
Welcome to read books in the sunshine.
Welcome to gaze out upon the Midwestern splendor.
Lest you think Kansas City is all glamor, this is where I spent my day yesterday. Make no mistakes about it: I’m here to get work done while my children luxuriate in Kansas City’s version of Club Med.
Dad and Judy are taking the day shift, but I’m still on duty for the early mornings.
Which is why I’m sitting here with August while he contemplates whether to eat blueberries or the baseball.
And Kato, as he scowls his way through the mixed berry platter.
Now that we are vaguely acclimated to Kansas City, we are going deeper into the story of my origins. Today we’ll drive north. Our destination: Fremont, Nebraska, to visit my grandma. My dad was born in a small town in Nebraska, and tomorrow, we’re having a large-scale family reunion with his three brothers and their families.
Here’s the three-generation shot we took yesterday.
This afternoon, we’ll have four generations of Swansons on display.