What’s a travel agency Daddy?

That’s a question I envision my sons asking me in a few years. And yet, there I was staring back at the nice old lady with my mouth in a half opened grimace searching for words. She had just asked me the simplest of questions: “Where is the nearest travel agency?”

I am so used to reacting automatically to questions for directions that my body was slightly turned and finger raised, ready to point out the North, South, East and West of it to this poor frightened lost tourist in the big bad city.

I was at a loss, thinking to myself “Aren’t they extinct?”, but quickly recovered and asked what she needed a travel agency for since there were very few still around. She wanted to visit family in D.C. and was looking to book a flight. Someone told her to look online and she frankly didn’t know where that was so she started walking around asking people.

Granted this seems an extreme case in our über-connected world, but this lady was seriously walking around looking for a travel agency. I vaguely remembered seeing a Liberty Travel somewhere in the neighborhood, but I did not want her to keep wandering aimlessly until she found the guy who said “Sure lady! My cousin has a travel agency…” This is New York after all. So out came the iPhone and I showed her that there was one fairly close by and sent her on her way.

I stared at my phone before slipping it back into my pocket and as I walked on I got to thinking that indeed technology is a wonderful thing to have at your fingertips. With a few clicks this woman would have booked her flight and printed her tickets. Then I thought how terribly helpless someone like that feels. It is not, obviously life threatening, but it is still something we take for granted and yet for some (or maybe many) is a real daily hurdle. I will even guess that with the exponential advancement of technology in the last 20 years doesn’t help either, but wasn’t that the case in prior decades? I read that the iPad is helping Alzheimer’s patients which is incredible and yet this lady was unable to do the simplest of tasks like buy a ticket. I guess it is an inevitable technological limbo that many of us will pass into as “our” technologies become outdated and we find daily amenities out of reach – good thing I’ll be able to call my kids to help me out (if cell phones and Skype still exist). I’m still getting over the fact that she was actually looking for a travel agency – me – the jaded New Yorker.

Kids say the darnedest things.

This is not the first or last time that I will breach this topic because it fascinates me. Kids really do say the darnedest things and it is not what they say so much as the expressions that gain popularity with each generation. The expressions seem to come from various sources, but all of them tied inextricably to that “decade”.  From salutations to exclamations, the variety is staggering yet only a few truly remind us of when we were kids and even fewer transcend time. They are also heavily influenced by socio-economic background, social trends (i.e. surfers, punks, yuppies, valley girls etc.) and certainly by geography.

In my youth “cool”, “awesome”, “bummer” were the time transcenders, we had inherited them and perpetuated them. We added (although I am sure other generations may argue it originated with them): “take a chill (pill)” “bite me!” “no shit, Sherlock!” “dig deeper, Watson!” “that’s just fugly!” “S’up homeboy?! “no duh!” “totally!” “oh snap!” “primo!” and “why you dissin me?!”. From the Movies and TV we got “eat my shorts!” “whatchutalkinbout?!” “don’t have a cow, man!” “homey don’t play that!” “did I do that?!” and “well isn’t that special!”. The list goes on and on (I am sure you all have plenty you remember growing up) and some expressions I used while others I hated or were just not part of me, but I wonder what my son will pick up and what his generation will come up with in the coming years. I already hear new expressions in the park and at the playgrounds, but it will be impossible to keep up as it was for our parents. I am sure the day will come sooner than I expect that I will use one of “my” expressions and my son will turn to me with a look of consternation and shaking his head will say: “Dad, that’s so lame!” or whatever the equivalent translates to these days.

 

Pretty in Pink

Perusing the Internet I came upon an article Saving Our Daughters From An Army Of Princesses with a book excerpt by journalist and mom, Peggy Orenstein. This led me to tweet about it which in turn elicited a rather brilliant pitch by Melissa Wardy (@PigtailPals) who owns www.pigtailpals.com and states on the website that “she doesn’t want to confine her little girl to the pink and purple world being marketed to her.” As many of you know, I do not have a little girl so why do I care about all this? For now I don’t care, really. It is one of those things in life that you say “I’ll deal with it when and if I must.” I figure I already have enough worry about with a son and all the possible mischief and mayhem that he will wreak and encounter. I could not help reading the article, though, and thinking what would I do?

You see, I hate pink. I hate it intensely. As an accent maybe, but the full on pink triggers a knee buckling migraine in my head. When my wife was pregnant and we did not know yet if we were having a boy or girl friends and family had their fingers crossed it was a girl so they could antagonize me with pink everything. I swore it would all end up in a bonfire. At the same time I realized that if I had a girl I would present her with a contradictory mixed bag of Neanderthal fathering and über-Liberal parenting. I would want a brilliant, confident and independent thinker with top grades and the youngest person to do something that was never done before and that would save lives and children and ultimately the world from doom. At the same I would have one rule that was to be enforced at all costs: no boys, ever.

My question is: Does letting a daughter play with Barbie stunt her growth as a person? I doubt it. I see so many women around me who grew up playing with dolls who are just as confident and empowered as their brothers who played with cars (not that I am implying that only playing with dolls or cars will make you confident). But what do I know? I am neither a girl nor the father of one.

I wonder, hypothetically, though, how I would cope with all the “girlyness”. I am all for playing knights and princesses and sitting down with teddy bear for tea, but am I going to have to stave off the insanity of the next Barbie fad or worse a riot inducing Cabbage Patch Kid launch? Then again it wouldn’t be the first time I stood in line for something and this time it would be for my kid. I’ll probably end up buying Barbie after hours of pleading and puppy dog eyes. I assume there is a camo-chic Barbie, right?

Family Dynamics and Dishwashing

I was walking to the subway this morning and overheard the following conversation between and mother, father and young daughter:

Father: That’s what happened to Daddy’s ring.

Daughter: But how did you lose it?

Mother: Daddy misplaced it. He didn’t lose it.

Father: Daddy found it in his pant pocket. (seemingly directed to the mother) I was washing the dishes so I took off the ring and slipped it into my pocket and must have forgotten it there.

Daughter: And then what happened?

Mother: And then Mommy found it.

Daughter (after a moment of contemplation): But why did he put it there if he was going to lose it?

Mother: He didn’t do it on purpose. Lose the ring, I mean. He just forgot that he had put it in his pocket.

Father: Exactly. Daddy has to be more careful.

The rest of the conversation trailed off in the blustery wind that wrapped itself around me and the cacophony of the morning traffic that assailed my ears.

I thought about the exchange as I descended the stairs into the station. It was hard not to let my imagination run wild with scenarios of deception and cynicism. I tried to remember if the mommy or daddy had betrayed any stress in the tone of their voice. I decided to conclude my thoughts on the more positive note that I had just witnessed a very cute vignette in which a distracted father explained to his curious daughter the most common of scenarios in which an object was sadly lost and then happily found, albeit not just any object, as the inflection in the daughter’s “how” clearly underscored.

Off Again. On Again.

During the last two weeks or so I have practically disappeared from the blogosphere. I am back and must confess that I kind of enjoyed it. That does not mean I did not miss it. I did. The down time, though, was refreshing. In the evenings when I do most of my writing I watched some movies, read some books, caught up on some New Yorker issues I missed (it is the best magazine out there, by the way) and basically just did nothing. I rarely turned on the computer and between snow days and holiday closings I spent most of the day with my son and relatives who came to visit.

It reminded me that community is important and part of the reason I like writing and reading what others write is that (as I have said many times before) my and my wife’s community (as in “flesh and blood”) is far away across the Atlantic. The blogs and people I talk to on an almost daily basis during the year have become my community away from “home” so to speak.

Getting back online feels much like walking back into the dorms after summer or winter break and hearing the familiar voices and seeing the familiar faces as you walk to your room. Some smile and some don’t, but it somehow feels like you were never gone for very long. You are not happy that the break is over, but you are happy to walk back into that comfort zone where things are as they were when you left a few weeks or months ago and you are anxious to meet up with friends and moan about the daily grind just like you did before you left.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some catching up to do.

Gobble Gobble

The beauty of Thanksgiving is that everyone, for once, sits around the table (hopefully) with few other distractions. It is one of the few non-denominational “family gathering” festivities and really the only 100% Made in USA holiday. There are plenty of polemics that accompany this holiday and its history, but I still want to talk about this day on which Americans, a truly nomadic nation, actually stop and sit down in one place together. For many other nations this happens every evening or at regular intervals and thanks to many different holidays scattered over the calendar year. It’s normal and even taken for granted. In the US, on the other hand, it is more the rule rather than the exception to find a family scattered far and wide with only Thanksgiving allowing for a long enough break to get together.

Despite the push by retailers and brands to use this holiday, as they do with all the other ones that come along, to push their ware, it still remains “unsponsored” (yes, even despite Black Friday) because people gather to be with each other with no pressure to exchange gifts or card. Certainly there is food and probably too much of it and there is football and probably not enough of it, but you do not have to rush to the store to grab some lame stocking stuffer for Aunt Mildred because you completely forgot and it would make for an embarrassing moment if she is the only one left without a trinket.

I am sure there is plenty of grumpiness and pouting and alcohol fueled foot-in-mouth moments (it may also be the Turkey steroids talking), but in general, I appreciate the basic tenet of Thanksgiving gatherings and the fact that it is truly a national holiday that everyone can celebrate.

Ironically, my wife with my son and I will be joining friends for Thanksgiving because as many of you know, both our families live in Italy. But don’t feel too bad for us, as I said before, we have plenty of other chances during the year to meet and bicker loudly, yet melodiously (hand gesticulation and all), as only Italian families can.

I am sure that next week will be hectic for everyone (especially the cooks) so I want to wish an early Happy Thanksgiving to everyone and I hope you can all sit down with friends and family next week and just enjoy the fact that you are all together!

Ancestry

There is something oddly satisfying about looking up dead relatives. To be more precise and less jarring I am getting back into my family tree with a renewed vigor that I hope will close some loops and tie loose ends. What I enjoy most about this activity is the hunt. It is the closest I will ever come to being an investigator. The challenges of seemingly dead ends and the pleasure of finding the missing link that gets you around the obstacle are what have always fascinated me when it comes to history in general. I believe I would be quite satisfied sitting in a library in the middle of stacks of manuscripts and books looking for and making connections between people and events that trace ancestry and evolution

The Internet has certainly brought an incredibly powerful set of tools and numerous resources into our homes that allow us to rapidly piece things together; and yet, despite all the technology, there is still so much that is not available. For all the archives and public records that are being painstakingly put together by librarians and archivists around the world there are just as many clues about the past that are locked away in a dusty trunk in attics and basements.

I am looking forward to my search because I am lucky to already have a great deal of oral and written history. This will act a guide and much like the picture on the puzzle box, I just have to find and match the pieces. I also know that there are some missing pieces and I look forward most to tackling that part of my research.

I do not know how long this will take me since I must do it during my spare time, but I hope that I will have a great deal organized so that if my son grows to share my same passion he can help me and eventually take over wherever I leave off my search.