Last week Robbi headed back to her old elementary school, and I tagged along. The occasion was Alden’s first parent teacher conference.
As directed, we signed in.
Completely of our own volition, we admired various evidence of our child’s recent weekday activities.
With little regard for modesty or decorum, we reveled in Alden’s having been added to the principal’s “100 Board,” the result of having been “caught being good,” an initiative aimed at rewarding positive behavior (and, seemingly, toward letting kids know that principals aren’t just mean, terrifying creatures).
Our little scholar has been busy at work this week.
She is working on her Halloween costume, which is “owl with pink feathers.” The feathers in question are each individually drawn, cut out, and taped to the costume in question. The work is painstaking and time consuming and Alden seems thoroughly undaunted by any of it. She seems to have harnessed her mother’s constitution, which I see as a very good thing.
Downstairs, Jodi has been channeling Robbi’s designs into gorgeous little works of art.
I cannot tell whether this giraffe is my favorite.
Or whether it’s this ninja kicking a donkey in half.
August has taken to wearing my clothing.
Iggy has taken to wandering off with shoes, making my morning scramble that much more taxing.
I continue to seek temporary solace along the sun-drenched back roads of Chestertown.
Robbi has taken to showing up, rifling through the spice drawer, and leaving again without cleaning up her mess.
On Saturday, we climbed on our multi-person bicycle contraptions and headed out of town. Our favorite little road to bike along is Lover’s Lane, where there are a few miles of woods and we feel truly apart from the world as we know it.
August came along, too. He just couldn’t fit in the photo above.
Just as I couldn’t fit in the photo below.
Once Alden decided to join us, August seemed to intuit that his share of the spotlight had diminished somewhat, a realization which dampened his mood, if slightly.
But only for a moment.
It was a spectacular day. The woods gave way to open fields and wide blue skies.
It was a day for taking photographs.
And a night for taking photographs as well. As Robbi redesigns our entire web presence, we need images for various banners, etc.
The observant among you will one day soon find the scene below excerpted as the header for the brand new Idiots’Books blog.
The task of getting these photos is less free-wheeling than it might seem.
Here is our best attempt at a deliberately haphazard arrangement of various Idiots’Books titles for the purpose of showing variety, energy, and volume. We are not displeased at the array, but the photo itself seems dim and insufficiently inspired.
Then Sunday came, with a trip to the Tire Park at Tuckahoe.
August continues to delight in dominating inanimate objects.
Kato continues to surprise me with occasional flashes of inner disco.
And now a new week is upon us, the end of which will be marked by the Grand Opening of our Haywire Letterpress studio. Which is both an exciting and discouraging thought. Exciting to finally bring the new venture to light. Discouraging considering all we have to do between now and then. But we will get it done. Because we have to.
Thank goodness for necessity, the driving force of all action, so far as I can tell.
This afternoon, we head to NYC. Tomorrow is a very big day. At 11:00am we have a rather exciting meeting with a prominent member of the publishing community. We are not at liberty to say more at this time but will hopefully be able to fill you in later. At 2:00pm, we are meeting with a producer from the MSNBC show Your Business who is considering doing a piece on Robbi and me and our various creative” business” ventures (apparently, he is willing to take the word “business” with a grain of salt as it applies to us). At 4:00pm we arrive at the Society of Illustrators to set up our projector and make sure all the technology is in place. And at 5:30pm. we take the stage, delivering the keynote for the biannual Educator’s Symposium (http://www NULL.societyillustrators NULL.org/Events-and-Programs/Special-Events/2014/Educators-Symposium-2014---Schedule/Educators-Symposium-2014--Schedule NULL.aspx).
Like I said, a very big day. And so we are driving up this evening in hopes of getting a decent night of sleep without children or dog (who insists on having breakfast earlier and earlier these days).
For now, I will share two old photos I dragged off the server while hunting images Robbi needed for a project she is working on.
Here is two-year-old Kato, loaded for bear on Halloween night.
And here is four-year-old Alden, curly as can be in the pumpkin patch.
Yes, I am excited looking forward to the good things ahead. But I also take such pleasure at looking at the recent past. So much has happened in the last two years. So much will happen in the two to come. For now, stuck squarely in the elusive present, I think I’ll pack the car. I often take comfort in the mundane when stuck in that space between nostalgia and imagining what will be.
Last week, we were invited to spend an hour or so at Alden’s new school, Henry Highland Garnett Elementary School (http://hhges NULL.kent NULL.k12 NULL.md NULL.us/) (site of the elementary education of one Robbi K. Behr).
Of course, we went. And, of course, we brought the whole family. Kato and August have been very curious about this strange new place where Alden has been spending all her days.
Our first task upon reaching her classroom was locating her desk. It took a bit of hunting about, but eventually we found some clues.
And I’m not talking about her name, of course, but of the self-portrait/puppet that was attached to her chair. I’m sure it’s impossible for you to tell which of these two heads is Alden’s and which is the puppet. I’d tell you, but I’m a bit unclear myself.
Our activity for the evening was to go around the classroom and review a series of color-coded posters, each of which dispensed some sound parenting advice. The idea was that we would check a box each time we read (and considered the weighty implications of) a poster. When all of the boxes were checked, we were to report back to the teacher as a means of proving our preparedness to raise a first grader.
The first sign we encountered gave us pause.
Although we do occasionally go to the library, I think it would be overstatement to describe our visits as frequent. Alden’s face makes clear her disgruntlement at discovering what the parents of first graders are SUPPOSED to be doing.
Her spirits couldn’t be kept down long, however. Soon we discovered another sign, this one purple. Surely THIS one would dispense some advice we were already following.
And, in fact, we DO talk to our children quite often, and we also do our best to listen to what they have to say.
But then we moved onto the black sign. And winced a bit.
While it is true that we don’t technically even HAVE a TV due to the fact that I disconnected our satellite in a moment of self-righteous frugality last winter, we do have streaming Netflix and we are occasionally guilty of handing them the controller, saying “here” and disappearing into the studio for a few hours.
I’d say “absolute limits” and we are not cozy bedfellows.
Which is why one comes to Back to School night after all. Not just to see your kid’s classroom, but to learn and stuff.
Onward to the orange sign. As everyone knows, Robbi takes no pleasure in reading.
The only magazines, newspapers, and books she handles on a regular basis are the ones for which she is drawing pictures.
Because of our natural aversion to books, we were collectively shocked (though none more than Alden) to learn that the right kind of parents are reading them to their children as much as 30 minutes a day.
It was shortly after this photo was taken that Alden asked her teacher if she knew of any families who might be willing to acquire an extra kid.
To preserve our flagging sense of self worth, we took a break from reading the signs and went over to check out Alden’s “bucket” into which a colorful fuzz ball is placed every time she does something good.
It was comforting to see that Alden had been good at least a dozen times since the start of school.
I requested details on the nature of her goodness but got only blank stares in return.
And so we returned to the rules.
We have to allow that our children are exposed to various “interesting experiences” by virtue of proximity to our unpredictable lifestyles. They go to Alaska. They’ve been to Japan. To get to the bathroom they have to venture down an unfinished staircase, through a gauntlet of rickety shelving and through a heavy fire door.
But what about the pink rule? Alas, Alden has never written a shopping list and I’m not sure she has ever attempted to read a restaurant menu. She does, however, make an attempt to read road signs, or at least to scan them for letters (when we are playing Alphabet Bingo on long trips).
And what about the blue rule?
The children do not yet set the table, but they are often encouraged to clear. Further, they are required to clean up the clutter in the living room before launching into unregulated marathons of Netflix streaming.
Admittedly, we do own a variety of books. The problem, of course, is that many of them are written primarily for the amusement of adults.
While we were bravely facing our parental shortcomings, Alden was admiring her winning set of school supplies.
Basically, there’s nothing that one can’t accomplish when equipped with a scissors, a glue stick, and a box of Crayolas.
Perhaps the evening’s most exciting discovery was the concept of the “mystery number.” Alden had come home talking about it in vague and shifting terms a couple of times, but any attempt we had made to discover the true meaning of the exercise were lost in the swirling winds of six-year-old obfuscation techniques.
Now we DO understand what the mystery number is and how it works, both from a practical and pedagogical perspective. And now we can tell you all about it.
But then we’d have to kill you.
Alden is lucky to have not one, but TWO teachers this year. In addition to classroom admiral Mrs. Hopkins (right), there is Mrs. Iller, who is a teaching assistant currently working on her degree at Washington College.
Alden seems very happy with her school, with her teachers, with her glue stick, and with the mystery numbers.
And so far as we can tell, these are the only metrics that matter.
As we were walking out the door, we saw proof positive that this school year will be (incredibly) “the best.” A seemingly outrageous claim, given the number of schools and the number of years in which schools have been happening.
And yet, it is a claim we are willing to humor. With great anticipation.
If only Robbi and I can rise to the occasion and figure out how to follow the damn rules.
Entering the fifth day of Robbi’s sabbatical, I am in good spirits. As are the children, for those of you who have been wondering. For the first few days, they kept asking, quizzically, “Where’s Mama?” And when I informed them that she was two blocks down the street drawing stuff in someone else’s house, they said, “Oh, right,” and went back to whatever it was they had been doing at the time—eating grapes, making lego planes, drawing on the easel, etc.
We have been seeing (and feeding) Robbi every day. She reports good progress on various projects, having spent the past few days drawing illustrations for our upcoming Society of Illustrators keynote. Next, she will turn to creating the final sketches for the LB Kids version of our book Babies Ruin Everything.
For my part, I am using the time away from Robbi and her distracting good looks to dive into a few projects that have been simmering in the background for a long time, a few middle grades manuscripts that aren’t going to finish themselves. One is about a little witch and her best friend (a monkey), one is about a boy who can see (and draw) what is not really there, and another about a brother and sister who solve problems together.
But enough about me. We spent the weekend enjoying ourselves, first attempting to figure out how many kids you can fit in one small pool and still have room for a dance party.
The answer is “at least six.”
While the kids were getting wet, we were enjoying the fruits, lovingly grilled to perfection.
It was exhausting having so much fun and eating so well.
Nevertheless, we headed West on Sunday to visit cousins near DC. The theme of restful basking continued, however.
On and on.
We were there for a birthday party, which was at a little gymnasium.
Alden, who has grown up climbing and leaping out of our cat tower, took immediately to the exciting challenge of using actual gymnastics equipment.
She is seldom one to shirk from challenge or uncertainty, and the uneven bars seemed not to daunt her. She started on the bottom…
And, moments later, found herself at the top.
Meanwhile, Kato took his own approach to defying gravity.
There was no shortage of marching and shouting.
Punctuated by moments of quiet equilibrium.
And followed by chances for free-form leaping.
Eventually, Rip Van Winkle woke up and tried to figure out what was going on.
All that he cared about were the balloons and the fact that his was orange.
A fact which Kato helped make clear the next morning. Using a sharpie, he wrote out August’s name, turning each letter into a smiling face. Each letter except “A,” that is, which he turned into rocket ship (Kato loves rocket ships) with Mickey Mouse inside (August loves Mickey).
To further reduce the danger of balloon confusion, Kato labeled his own as well. I commend him for not consulting with me on the spelling front.
The real theme of the past few days has been legos, and the staggering varieties of space ships that can be made from one small bin of them.
Here is one with R2D2 at the wheel.
And here is another that “goes very, very, very fast.” This according to Kato. I have no reason to dispute the claim.
Now is the time of day when I go make breakfast, and so I will go. I hear the distant thunder of tiny feet charging toward me. Which is the only alarm clock that matters these days.
My friends, we have some news.
After careful deliberation, Robbi and I have decided to separate.
In the name of art, in the name of sanity, she is moving out of the barn and I will raise the children.
But she’s not going far. And the arrangement is only temporary. And mostly I’m just messing with you.
Here’s the thing. Robbi is a nocturnal creature who does her best creative work from 10:00pm – 4:00am or so. Being forced to live within the antagonistic confines of the typical American workaday schedule puts a cramp on her style. Add to this the fact that she has a lot on her plate right now, and we both decided to see what would happen if she were allowed to live and create according to her natural biorhythms.
I will text her occasionally to make sure that she is still alive. She will still come eat dinner with us every night so that the children can remember what their mother looks like. But for the time being, she will be free to abandon the time-space continuum and surrender to the whim of her muse.
I’m excited to see what she comes up with. And she is excited at the possibility of getting ahead in her work.
In anticipation of her migration two blocks down the street to my mom’s house (currently vacant as my mom counts down the eleven months that remain until her retirement), we headed to Costco to provision Robbi with desirable snack foods.
Left to her own devices Robbi has a tendency to forget about typical human urges like eating. When I go out of town, I often return late in the evening to find she has eaten nothing but a cucumber since breakfast. Therefore the task to was to accumulate a stockpile of attractive, easy-to-eat foods that she would have no excuse to avoid.
We might have gotten a little bit carried away.
But I am fairly confident that she will not starve.
Costco is adjacent to the Christiana Mall, which was our next stop.
Having thoroughly torched our credit card on snackfood, we headed to the Lego store.
Kato has recently become deeply enamored of these timeless plastic bricks, and, as the result of various good deeds throughout the summer, was given the opportunity to fill one small tub with pieces of his choosing from the endless colorful glory of the Lego wall.
This incredible place did not exist when I was a kid.
But then again, neither did Lego Tower of Pisa and Lego Trevi Fountain.
Though Kato made the bulk of the selections, Robbi exercised her powers of patience and mechanical prowess to fill every last nook and cranny. If it’s possible to juke the system, Robbi might have done it.
While we were there, I took the opportunity to officially claim an honor that I’ve rightly deserved since early childhood.
That’s right. I am a Lego Club VIP. And I’m not afraid to say it.
Our tub of assorted Legos in tow, we headed next for the Apple store, fully prepared to embrace bankruptcy in style.
We were there to pick up a machine we had special ordered online a few weeks ago. It has been five years since Robbi got her last Mac, and her poor, exhausted G5 tower has been growing increasingly sluggish. We figured her new life as a solitary nocturnal bohemian was as good an excuse as any for an upgrade.
So she started with the 27′ iMac and made a few memory and processor enhancements. The result: this large white box.
She tells me that as much as she loves the new machine, she still loves me more.
But I’m not sure I believe her.
I think the only reason she brought me along was to carry the thing back to the car.
Back home, she began the process of copying all her old files onto the new Mac.
Further evidence of her fuzzy allegiances was abundant.
She is so enamored with its gleaming newness that she refuses to take off the plastic.
Earlier today (Saturday), we went to the Chestertown farmer’s market for a final walk as a nuclear family unit.
When we got home, she packed up her stuff (including her new boyfriend, which she not-so-subtly refers to as Husband 2.0)…
…and drove her to my mom’s house. Notice how she’s trying to look wistful. But it’s all a pack of lies. LIES! This is the face of a happy woman. A woman on the brink of liberation. A woman on the cusp of aesthetic bliss.
The woman is thrilled. New computer. New house. So many delicious snacks.
How many delicious snacks, you might ask?
Great masses of granola.
Various chips and Pirate’s Booty.
Extraordinary granola bars.
An entire case of San Pellegrino.
Easy-to-prepare, lunch-sized Indian food.
And various salsas, dips, and salads.
More than enough to keep one rather petite illustrator going for weeks if not months, right? What could possibly be missing from this spread?
If you were thinking “gratuitous block of gorgonzola cheese,” you know Robbi even better than I do.
While I was marveling at the sheer majesty of the banquet, Robbi wasted no time in getting Husband 2.0 up and running.
After all, it was time to consecrate their relationship. I knew I had been officially replaced when she finally removed the plastic.
Eventually, it was time to say farewell. A sabbatical can do no good until it actually begins.
The kids said their farewells.
And I said mine.
Robbi did her best to look heartbroken, but nothing could pierce her smile.
Now it is Saturday night, the kids and I are snuggling in bed, getting ready to sleep and wondering what Robbi is up to. Is she drawing a picture, coding a website, or eating gorgonzola by the spoonful.
Does she know what time it is? Or day it is? Or that she’s still in Chestertown and not floating idly on the deck of a cruise ship lost in a tropical sea?
Is Husband 2.0 giving her a foot rub and asking how her day was?
What time will she go to bed (or will she ever go to bed at all)?
For now, these questions are all rhetorical. For now, the answers aren’t important.
We miss you, Robbi. Enjoy your sabbatical. Please don’t forget to eat. We will see you soon.
For two years running, our good friends and neighbors Donald and Ann have taken Alden and Kato to Dutch Wonderland, a kid-themed amusement park in Lancaster, PA.
To listen to the kids report back on their days there, being in Dutch Wonderland is like spending the day in Heaven. Heaven with roller coasters.
Robbi and I have, of course, been curious, but the Dutch Wonderland trip has been the kids’ special outing with Donald and Ann, and so we have had to experience the wonders vicariously.
This year, however, we were invited to come along. And, of course, we jumped at the opportunity.
Much to my surprise, Lancaster is not so far away, just a pleasant 77 mile journey through Pennsylvania countryside that happens to take two hours on account of the winding farm roads that account for the final third of the trip.
If you have never been to Dutch Wonderland, just close your eyes and imagine your wildest fantasies realized.
There are knights. There are princesses. There are dragons.
And there are strict height requirements (and resulting color-coded categories) that determine one’s fate for the day. Since last summer, Alden had inched her way into the amber category and Kato into emerald. August, who was making his debut appearance at Dutch wonderland, seemed unfazed by the indignity of being relegated to the under-three-foot category, the name of which I will not even mention in an attempt to match his silent shame.
Even the untouchables were allowed to enjoy themselves however. Whether riding monster trucks…
…complete with functional, plow-lifting handles…
…and cheerful flying pandas.
Given the variety of mechanical distractions, I was somewhat surprised at the glee the boys took in this simple maze, the elastic walls of which created a fun surface against which to hurl one’s body.
While Alden and Robbi took in the more adventurous rides for the more vertically fortunate, Kato, Augie, and I did our best to seek thrills wherever possible.
And so we stood in the very long line for the Double Dip Flume, biding our time by gazing with excitement and trepidation at the tall watery mountain we soon would be climbing.
When the thrill of anticipation wore off, we bided our time by making ridiculous faces.
Eventually, we came to the front of the line. There were three of us, so we followed the directions and sat up front.
The ride began, and we climbed up that steep, steep slope.
And came thundering down the other side. Oh, but it was very exciting.
After the water ride, we met up with our good friends Christian and Emily and their three small children. Iris, their eldest, rivals Alden in the plasticity of her face and her willingness to show it off.
If you had told Christian and me when we were college sophomores and roommates back in the fall of 1994 that we would one day be riding a roller coaster with our six-year-old daughters at Dutch Wonderland, I probably wouldn’t have had such a hard time believing you.
This is exactly the sort of thing I hoped would happen in my life. Keeping in touch with good friends and writing new chapters of our lives together.
Dutch Wonderland has many modern distractions, but it does remain grounded in certain Amish fundamentals.
Such as an extraordinarily tall tower that a man dressed as a frog climbed and then did a twisting back flip from the very top of.
Into a deep pool of water, mind you, but boy howdy was it a long fall.
The leap was part of a water show that I did not attend but which Robbi declared to be extremely entertaining.
Which is to say, Dutch Wonderland has something for 34″ tall two-year-olds and voyeuristic 38-year-old thrill seeking illustrators alike.
Alden and Iris braved the Fun Slide.
And had such a good time that Kato and I were inspired to do the same.
Augie, ever the traditionalist, claimed his favorite ride was the carousel.
Alden, too, saw the virtues of gently bobbing plastic horses.
Kato? Kato keeps it real by salting every occasion with a healthy dose of skepticism. Kato reminds us all that any glass that is 7/8 full is actually 1/8 empty.
I ended the day on the flying trapeze, a grand ride for which my boys were ineligible.
I admired its long chains, is throwback typography, and the fact that it offered a place to sit down.
Spinning around and around reminds me that I am rapidly approaching 40 and that my inner ear is no longer a garden of resilience.
I remember a trip to Hershey Park when I was very young, perhaps not much older than Alden. There was a ride that spun you around so fast that you stuck to the wall. And then the floor dropped away. I loved it. I thought it was the greatest. I did it four times in a row. And I have never been the same since that day.
Perhaps in some small way my children have been similarly changed in indelible ways by the wonder of Dutch Wonderland.
Alden is already talking about our next trip. No matter that it’s still a year away. No matter that she’s unable to make it to Sapphire by next year.