Category Archives: Travel

On the Road Again

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When I told my friend Suppers it was time to say goodbye, she said, No, you know what it’s time to say?

FUCK YOU.

Yeah, I deserved that one.

How many times will we do this? Move in, get comfortable, make forever-friends, look with them at the far-off horizon–the 5-year man school program our kids are enrolled in, the changes to the community we’d like to institute, the stats on the high school (when my oldest hasn’t even hit middle school) . . . And then we leave.

The Scientist, for whom the term “settled” is anachronistic (“That soooo 20th century”), has already made the physical and emotional leap to the Motherland, so the rest of us are lagging behind.

But it’s time now. Time to say goodbye. Time to get on that road in the sky and head to the UK. Only, because it would be so conventional (soooo 20th century, perhaps) to fly east to get to the UK, we are flying way, way, way west and traveling to the UK the long way around the world. How boring to move and not hit almost every time zone known to humankind. Kids + jet lag rocks.

And speaking of awesome combinations, I hear China + WordPress don’t mix, so I might have to sign off for a while. But in the meantime, Poor Princess is thinking of writing a memoir about her meshugana life schlepping her kids everywhere. A How Not To kind of book. Maybe that will keep her occupied in China and her new life in the UK where she has no job or life to speak of (I know, you’ve all heard that one before). Until then, 再见!

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That fleeting feeling of being settled . . .

 

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The Poor Princess in the Kingdom

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So the Poor Princess got poorer — $600 poorer — for one day (excluding accommodations) in Walt Disney’s genius megascam, Magic Kingdom (the magic is that they get you to agree to handing over $100s of your hard-earned dollars to wait hours to go on 3-minute rides that give you whiplash).

Poor Princess--the poorest princess in the kingdom

Poor Princess–the poorest princess in the kingdom

I’ll be honest: Parts of the day were brilliantly fun–like Splash Mountain, which we got a fastpass for and were all tall enough to go on:

The Princess-Scientist Family, renamed the Perries, on Splash Mountain

The Princess-Scientist Family, renamed the Perries for the day, on Splash Mountain

And parts revealed surprising beauty, like Cinderella’s Castle at night:

Cinderella's Castle at night

Cinderella’s Castle in shades of violet

And parts–like Cool J not being tall enough for Space Mountain (and LL raving about how amazing it was all day) and the miserably bad food we had to wait as long as Space Mountain for–were neither.

The day involved kicking, yelling, crying, too much ice cream (some of which was kicked . . . and led to yelling and crying . . . see above), a torrential downpour, rides that we could have ridden at any fair and at half the malls in America, and, of course, some magical delight. Was it worth $600?

Hell, no. Do you know what I could do with $600?

Unless–unless it was an investment.

This occurred to me the next day at breakfast, when I tried to interest the boys in the waffle iron but could not get their attention for the life of me. The boys were plotting and plotting. I listened in. Cool J, they decided, was going to built a bigger and better version of WDW–named after himself, of course. It would be in Texas–warm weather, lots of money, cheap real estate. The boys planned characters, logos, and rides. The conversation spilled from breakfast to our long, long car ride, and into the next day.

I doubt “Cool J’s World” will come to fruition, but I like the way my boys were thinking. WDW’s brilliant marketing suckered us into spending the cost of a roundtrip ticket to Europe for a day of kitschy Americana, but it also offered my boys an education.

And let’s face it: $600 is a whole lot less than I would spend on their MBAs.

D Day

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So, remember that decision we were supposed to make months ago about moving to the UK? Right. We’re still in the process of making it.

And in doing so, we are constantly weighing pros and cons. The biggest pro is that it is a professional step up for The Scientist. And there are other pros, of course, like new cultural experiences and European travel. On the other hand, I worry about not having a job there–about not ever getting a job there. Nevermind the longer term career issues for me, how can we possibly afford to live off of one academic salary? Also, I am also loathe to leave a place where I am quite content. But on the other hand (like Tevye, we seem to have many hands to play the other)–The Scientist has turned down tenure-track jobs before, and this is a really good one. How do we decide? Will a message just appear from the heavens?

It happens there are messages, like Chinese fortunes, but unwrapped and there for all to see, not up in the sky, but below, on the paving stones dotting my college campus. Throughout the semester–and our decision-making process–I trod on two on the path between my office and my classroom. One says “Yes!” (apparently the whole of the letter of acceptance a former dean used to send out). Another says, “Be happy. Never be content.”

It’s hard to ignore the signs.

BUT, there are other signs. Like grapes.

The other day, I’m chatting with my mom on the phone as I’m unpacking my groceries. Crunch, crunch, crunch in her ear. “Mom,” I gush, “I am eating the best grapes in the world. Do you know what I mean when I say the best grapes?”

“I know good grapes.”

“No, but I mean the best grapes. You know–like crispy.”

“I know crispy grapes.”

“But not just crispy. Crispy and –” chomp chomp –“juicy.”

“Yes, honey, I got it. I know crispy and juicy grapes.”

“You know what it is, mom?” I ask.

“What?” asks my mother, whose patience for me is astounding.

“It’s that Whole Foods charges, like, double the price for everything. This bag of grapes cost me $10, but here’s the amazing thing. It’s still a good deal.” I continue to unload my brightly colored organic produce, carefully packaged containers of cheese, and freshly ground peanut butter. “The thing is,” I say, “Their stuff is actually five times better than normal supermarket stuff.”

My mother sighs.

“Oh, princess,” she says, “You are not good at being poor.”

Alas, D Day approaches. In the next couple of days, we need to give the UK university an answer. What will it be? Will we stay on in this princely town . . . or will we go back to our (non-organic) salad days in a new land?

baby in a bathtub

Our former salad days: When Cool J came along, we didn’t have money for a place with a bedroom for him . . . but he survived!

Conversations with my Middle Child (Sh%*&t my little frat boy says)

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A month or so ago, I received a call from the kindergarten teacher telling me my five-year-old frat boy, Cool J, took his friend Boychick into the bathroom to teach him the f-word. “The f-word!” says his teacher. “When Boychick told me your son taught him the f-word, I thought there was no way it was what I would call the f-word. In my 30 years of teaching kindergarten, I’ve never heard a child say such a word. So in front of the class, I encouraged him to share it. Was it flower? Or fantasy? Or was it a bad f-word–like frown–or fight?” Pause for dramatic effect. “But no, it was the f-word . . .”
Cool J: A picture of innocence

Cool J: A picture of innocence

I could hardly pretend to exhibit surprise (although I did my best). After all, only a short time before the call, we had been spending Shabbos dinner with my in-laws, Babi and Zaidy Frummy, when my brother-in-law, Master Notfatso, was slow in passing the hummus. Cool J turned to him: “Uncle!” he shouted. “Pass the fucking hummus!” (“Where did you hear such a word?” asked Babi Frummy. “Does your brother use that language?” Abashedly: “No.” “Does your mother use that language?” “No.” “Does your father use that language?” “Yes.” Saved!!!!)

PP and an abashed Cool J

At 5, Cool J is a real chatty cathy, with an answer for everything. Here are some snippets of conversation from this week alone:

Resisting his term of endearment:
Me: “Come here, my little angel.”
Cool J: “I am NOT an angel of death who slays the firstborn of every Egyptian!”
*
Resisting our (inevitable?) future:
Me: “Hey, since we’re thinking of moving to the UK, do you think we should we practice speaking British?”
Cool J: “Mama, I know Yiddish. I can say kiddush. But I DON’T KNOW BRITISH!”
*
Resisting my demands (and teaching mom a biology lesson):
Me: “Of course you have to listen to me. I am your mama! I made you.”
Cool J: “No, you didn’t.”
Me: “Oh, really? Then who did?”
Cool J: “You and Dada together.”
Me: “Yes, that’s true. Do you know how?”
Cool J: “Yes.”
Me: “How?”
Cool J: “He put it in you.”
Me: “What?”
Cool J: “His DNA!”
*
Grand birthday plans:
LL: “For my eighth birthday, I want to go back to the Tower of Power and go up the yellow elevator and the red elevator.”
Me: “That’s nice. I’ll consider taking you to the Empire State Building.”
LL: “Aww . . .”
Cool J: “Well, I want to go to India for my sixth birthday!!”
Me: “You do?”
Cool J: “Well . . . “
We all look at him.
Cool J: “Nah, I don’t really care where I go. So long as I get to drink alcohol!”
*
Good habits:
Cool J: “Can I have a bazooka?”
Me: “No.”
Cool J: “Can I have a bazooka?”
Me: “No.”
Cool J: “Can I have a bazooka?”
Me: “No.”
Cool J: “Can I have a bazooka?”
Me: “Ugh . . . fine.” (This is where a tiny part of me admits that Frank Bruni’s obnoxious I-know-better-than-all-you-parents-based-on-nothing-but-my-pomposity and I-am-just-writing-this-as-a-cheppener op-ed has a milligram of truth to it).
Cool J (breaking his teeth on the rock-hard K-for-P gum): “Oooh, I like chewing gum. I am going to do it all the time.”
Me: “No, you’re not. It’s a bad habit.”
Cool J (twisting his now softened gum into a cylinder and dangling it from his lips): “OK, Mama. Then I’ll just smoke instead.”

If this is childhood . . . I fear the teenage years

The Long, Long, LONG Way Home

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There is still a bit more to come before our house comes into sight–a few dozen miles, an accident that closes the highway, a bodega stop for bread, juice, and milk–but with only an hour to go, the boys at last descend into sleep, some 48 hours, 4 flights, 7 airports, a train, a monorail, two double decker buses, a subway, a rental car, two shuttles, a taxi, one hotel room, and four major cities (Istanbul, London, Washington, and New York City) after leaving the apartment they’d briefly called home in Tel Aviv.

Sleepy time NYE

A little respite at a highway-side hotel.

Oh, but what a fun trip! We went on the London Eye and up Masada! We rested our foreheads against the holy stones of the Kotel and admired the art of the Tate Modern! We floated in the Dead Sea, ate our weight in hummus, and once, briefly, saw the sun shine over the UK. What more could we have asked for?

So what if we had to get up at 2am in Tel Aviv for our 5:20 flight–but still had to run to make it after an argument with our car rental agency over the amount of gas in the car, the dead GPS, and the random charges tacked on at the last minute, nevermind the multiple lines of rigorous security? So what if, starving, I tried to buy the only edible food at the airport in Istanbul–a 3-euro chocolate bar–only to be told that the system declared it to be 4 euros, and, when I refused to buy it (on principle) and then handed the cashier a 2.50-euro chocolate, I was only given 1 euro change (“I don’t have 50 cents,” she said, “So you will take 1 euro.” “Um, yeah, no I won’t.” “You will.” “I won’t.” “Then here is your 10 euro and leave my store.” Well screw you too, lady!), and in the end I came out with nothing? So what if we had to wait in line for hours at Stansted, were exhausted when we got to the hotel in London, and then, attempting to take one last doubledecker bus around town to please the kids, found that after paying our 2.30 pounds each, our bus only went a block past our hotel? So what if we had to get up in the middle of the night–again–to catch a flight from Heathrow that flew directly over our house and way past it to Washington, DC? So what if we then flew not to where we left from (and where our car was), but to La Guardia instead, and when we arrived, the jetway was broken and we could not get off the plane? So what if after finally getting off the plane, we bought a ticket to the other airport, but the shuttle, instead, dumped us at Grand Central, telling us it’s New Year’s Eve (oh, really?) and all the roads are closed, and this is the last stop, so–goodbye and good luck!?

GC NYE

A few blocks and a few hours away from the ball dropping.

According to The Scientist, the only thing the kids are going to remember from our 3-week adventure is our arrival in NYC: me yelling F-You at the driver who dumped us at Grand Central and doing my one-person sit-in on his bus.

Does this mean it wasn’t all worth it? Did I mention the boys rode on a camel?

Gamal gadol

Gamal gadol

Did I mention we saw thousands of drunk Santas handing out candy at Trafalgar Square?

Santacon

Santacon

Did I mention we floated in the Dead Sea?

The requisite "I'm pretending to read a newspaper" in the Dead Sea picture

The requisite “I’m pretending to read a newspaper in the Dead Sea” picture

Oh yeah, I mentioned that one already.

But I guess the long and short of it is: 48 hours of hell on the return was worth a lifetime of memories that–for some of us anyway–should extend beyond my rear end on the stair of a bus parked in front of Grand Central in NYC while I shouted a bevy of swear words and threats.

“Oh yeah? Well, then, do call the cops on me! I dare you! Please please do! What’s that? Happy new year? Don’t you ‘Happy New Year’ me! Fuck you! Fuck you and your new year!”

By which I mean, of course, happy new year to you all.

On the Travel Itinerary: Back to Where it all Began

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Now that all is booked, and I’m almost ready to go (minus 24 essays to grade and a conference talk to write, a book club to host, a couple of holiday parties and a Chanukah concert to attend–details, details), I find myself reminiscing on my formative years.

This begins as a sob story: I despised my first year of university. I was bored in my classes, and I carried around an obnoxious superiority complex, thinking I was smarter than all my classmates and probably most of my professors. This attitude led me, of course, to do terribly in my courses since I stopped showing up to classes and wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t handing in assignments that were due.

In addition to the lousy academic side of my so-called “college experience” (did such a thing exist for me? I lived at home with my parents, and didn’t make a single new friend, hanging out, as I was, with all my high school friends, who also lived at home with their parents), I was romantically wretched. I was in a warped not-relationship with a hirsute, hateful, rage-driven, confidence-killing, misogynistic, homophobic, Kill-the-Arabs man that a friend of mine affectionately referred to as “ha’Shatiach” (the carpet).

carpet

On one of his better days, he told me: “Every time you smile, I remember how ugly you are.” On another occasion, he borrowed a lip balm from a friend of mine who mentioned–who knows why–that a gay friend of hers regularly borrowed it as well, and ha’Shatiach scrubbed at his lips until they bled (he later told me his father said he should have dumped his plate of spaghetti in my friend’s lap–so we know where he got his loving personality from).

To add to this rather unpleasant foreground, the university I attended was and is one of the least architecturally attractive institutions out there–a mishmash of bad styles, most of them dating from the concrete- and industrial-art-loving 60s. All I wanted to be was anywhere but there.

And by my second year, that’s where I was.

Suddenly, school was cool. Surrounded by Jerusalem stone and the gleam of the Dome of the rock; conversing with people who were smart and cosmopolitan, and who went to famous, fabulous schools like Oxford and Harvard; partying at the “Orient Express,” a nightclub at the Hyatt that catered to stupid drunken tourists like me; high on the handshake between Rabin and Arafat (a clipping from the Jerusalem Post featuring that triptych of peace–Rabin, Clinton, and Arafat in camaraderie, Clinton with an arm almost but not quite around each of the Middle Eastern men–hung on my wall); I found, in Israel, two loves–one professional, and one romantic.

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I was 19.

One wouldn’t imagine that what happened that year would affect me so profoundly. But I guess it did. One day that year, visiting Tzfat, a beautiful, mystical city where the artists reign, I told my hosts (beneficent strangers who took me in for a Shabbos dinner), as though in a trance, that when I “grew up” I was going to be an English professor. It was the first time such a thought had ever entered my head, and it flew out of my mouth just as soon as it did.

Two days later, I returned to Jerusalem, and I told my boyfriend of the time of my plan.

That was 19 years ago–half a lifetime ago. This was me and my boyfriend:

PP & The Scientist--1994, Israel

THEN: PP & “Boyfriend of the time” in Israel (and yes–I still had the unfortunate eyebrows I had in high school, as Nancy Botwin reminds me every time she sees this picture).

My plan was extensive. I was going to go back to my home university. I would not be miserable because I would go visit my boyfriend whenever I could. And he would visit me. I would do incredibly well in all my classes. I would get into a good graduate program. And then I would get my PhD and become an English professor. And maybe–this part was hazier–marry the boyfriend.

There was one more thing: I didn’t just say I was going to be an English professor. I said I was going to be an English professor in Israel. So much had happened to me there, so many important life changes, I could only imagine that Israel would be a fundamental part of my life forever. I could only imagine that I would live there full-time. Or maybe part-time. But there was no way another year of my life would go by without my spending time in Israel.

But I was wrong. Israel wasn’t a big part of my life after that–not in any kind of physical, tangible way. 19 years went by–the same number of years of my life that led up to my year in Israel. 19 years went by and I didn’t go back to Israel once. I changed. Everyone changed. Even ha’Shatiach, I hear, changed. He found drugs, and through drugs found yoga, and through yoga found peace–and now he’s a peace-loving yogi/naturopath who lives happily in a Muslim country.

And as for me? Well, you all know where I am —

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Not tt, but happily teaching at one of the finest and prettiest universities in the world

PP, The Scientist, Cool J, LL, and Baby MoFo--2012

“Boyfriend of the time” and I are now 5: PP, The Scientist, Cool J, LL, and Baby MoFo

And, after half a lifetime, guess where I’m finally GOING?

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be a PROFESSOR there or anything . . . but I am finally going back.

The Worst Tooth Fairy Ever

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The Scientist leads a glamorous life. Last week he jetted off West; this week East. Well, OK, the West was Minnesota (be sure to pronounce like a toothless hockey player)–not so glamorous. The East, however, is Portugal–not too shabby. He jets off here, he jets off there, and poor Poor Princess–I jet off nowhere. I stay home playing mommy–chef and chauffeur, judge and jury, teacher and trainer. And tooth fairy. Twice.

It was me who couldn’t handle the tooth.

The first time LL lost a tooth during the Scientist’s trip to Minnesota, all went smoothly. LL wrote the tooth fairy a note kindly asking for $2, put his tooth under his pillow, and I swapped his note and tooth for 2 dollar bills. Fait accomplit. Good Tooth Fairy. Good mommy.

But the second time–the second time The Scientist was also gone a second time–a second time in the span of a week. And this time he wasn’t only gone for 3 days across the country, but 7 across the ocean. And even though it was only a couple of days into those 7, back-to-back full-time mommying was making me tired. Damn tired.

That evening, the kids kept getting out of bed with one excuse or another. “Mama, I’m thirsty.” “Mama, I need to poo.” “Mama, can you come cuddle with me again?” “Mama, can you give me a math problem?” “No fair–I want a math problem!” “Me too!” And then finally, “Mama–come see all the blood!”

“What??”

“I lost another tooth!”

I debate getting up. “Come downstairs,” I finally say. “Let me see.”

Bloody Hell. It was true.

Bloody Hell. It was true.

“OK,” I say, too tired to even rise from the sofa. “Stick it under your pillow, and I’m sure the tooth fairy will come.”

Only–she didn’t.

She fell asleep on the sofa, and then woke herself up long enough to brush her teeth before collapsing in bed.

The next morning, I’m awoken to a wail. “Maaaammmaaaa! The tooth fairy didn’t come! My tooth is STILL here!”

“Uh–um–uh–”

Cool J sits up in bed. “Did you write her a note? Did you ask for anything? How would she know she had to come and give you something?”

Ah, Cool J. My savior.

***

That night, LL sat down at the table and wrote the Tooth Fairy a note: “Dear Tooth Fairy, Can I please have $2? Thank you.” He turned the two o’s in Tooth into eyeballs with long eyelashes, and signed his name, first and last.

“I’m sure she’ll come this time,” I say. I write my own notes–at least five, though they’re virtual, not physical–and I plant them in different places in my brain. Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget. “I’m sure she’ll come this time,” I say again.

Only–she didn’t.

Repeat of the previous night. I was watching Kristen Stewart (I’m committed to trashy TV during the Scientist’s absence: the night before it was stuttering Stewart in New Moon, this time in Eclipse) trying to be oh-so-cool in her Northwest grunge (seriously? Is that still in style there?) and wondering how Robert Pattinson is not getting that awful red lipstick all over her, and just feeling generally uncomfortable by their permanently-pained facial expressions (are they constipated??) (Thank goodness for Jacob–Ooooooh, Jacob . . .!). And then my brain went dead.

When the alarm went off the next morning, I hit snooze. But when I started dreaming of teeth falling from the sky, I bolted awake. Shit!!!! I dashed down the stairs, grabbed my wallet, took out 3 one-dollar bills–the kid deserves interest at this point–and ran upstairs to arrive precisely at the moment that LL is sitting up, hands on his pillow, about to lift it. I slide my hand under the pillow just as it rises from the bed. I swap the tooth for the cash. Success! I am unable to grab the note–LL has already noticed its presence and is asking me why the Tooth Fairy didn’t either a) take his note, or b) write him back–but who cares. My mission was a success. A last minute, under-the-wire success.

I am relieved.

LL, however, is not. “Why did she give me $3?”

“I guess she felt bad that she didn’t come the first night, so she gave you extra. Well, that was nice of her, wasn’t it?”

“No, it wasn’t right. I asked for $2.” A child’s justice is highly inflexible.

“Oh, that’s OK. Just be happy you got more.”

“No, I’m not supposed to get more. That’s not right.”

“The Tooth Fairy didn’t do good?”

“No!”

The whole day LL sat there with the three dollar bills in his hands, wondering aloud what was wrong with the tooth fairy–can’t she read???

That Tooth Fairy needs an early retirement–or at least a vacation!

Dear Scientist, come on home, won’t you?