Sunday, July 29, 2012

Are We There Yet?

     A week ago today, Spartacus left for New York City on a company trip, fully intending to return four days later. His return flight was scheduled for Thursday morning, and because I'd been missing him quite a bit, I was really looking forward to having him back by the time I arrived home from work that afternoon. The week seemed to drag by for me, mostly because I was home alone with our dogs. Simon and Lilly are three-year old German short-haired pointers, an extremely high energy bird-hunting breed, who require a great deal of time running outdoors on a daily basis; otherwise, they go stir-crazy. At bare minimum, they need an hour outside every day. The summers here in Atlanta are so hot and humid that I can't stand to go outside, even in the shade, for more than just a few minutes at a time. Since Spartacus isn't bothered by the heat and humidity, he happily accepts "dog duty."
     On Monday, I arrived home from work before lunchtime, greeted anxiously at the door by Simon and Lilly, pleading with me to let them chase squirrels and birds in the front yard. I obliged, almost immediately regretting my decision. Being outside late in the morning felt just as miserable as high noon or early evening, the stagnant air so pregnant with water vapor that it seemed to be ridiculing my skin's valiant, but ill-fated attempts at evaporative cooling. I didn't have to work Tuesday or Wednesday, so I took the dogs out several times on those days, either early in the morning or as the sun began to set. As soon as we came back indoors, they wanted to go out again, blissfully unencumbered by the constraints of time or short-term memory. Every new bout of perspiration I experienced was accompanied by a different dog-owner fantasy. I dreamed of being Anthy, the nice lady down the street whose miniscule chihuahua, Elvis, takes Prozac for his separation anxiety and gets carried on his his walks, or Wade, who "belongs" to Norman, the enormous, slobbering, perpetually-outfitted-for-a-snowstorm St. Bernard who lives here in our complex and only ever comes outside to poop, preferring instead to bask in the cool comfort of his air-conditioned loft. After taking my third rinse-off-the-yucky-sweat shower Wednesday evening, I was literally counting down the minutes until Spartacus's arrival. Of course, I was excited to see him again, but I was also secretly delighting in the knowledge that he'd have already taken Simon and Lilly outside before I got home from work Thursday afternoon.
     While I was working Thursday morning, I received the first of many text messages from Spartacus, informing me that his flight had been cancelled due to the storms in the Northeast. Delta had re-booked him on an evening departure out of LaGuardia. As the day progressed, I received hourly updates, each one more dismal and disappointing than the last, with a final TM around 10:30 p.m. which read, "Flight cancelled. Vendor bought me pillow and blanket. Sleeping on floor underneath seats in baggage claim. Love you." I was really hoping he'd be able to catch an early morning flight the next day, especially since our sons' band, BearKnuckle, was playing a Friday night gig in East Atlanta. After being cooped up here all week on 24/7 dog patrol, I had a pretty mean case of cabin fever myself, and was looking forward to a night out on the town, watching Nick and Rory perform. Spartacus made it as far as Washington, D.C. on Friday. He had a scheduled 10 p.m. flight out of D.C., but was still trying to catch an earlier stand-by ticket, despite Delta's assurance that this would be next to impossible because all their Atlanta departures were tragically overbooked. Needless to say, I went to the BearKnuckle show alone, and Spartacus didn't get home until about 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. He hadn't bathed or changed clothes in two days. After a much-needed shower, he fell into bed, the details of his arduous and exhausting 36 hour journey condensing into explicit memory as he drifted off to sleep.
     Later that afternoon, my mom brought my almost five-year old niece, Jerney, down for a visit. Jerney kept the three of us entertained, playing with an old wooden cabin I'd built with Nick and Rory many years ago, busily arranging and re-arranging the assortment of plastic dolls, animals, and tiny furniture, breathing new life into an otherwise sluggish Saturday afternoon. She'd also brought along a kit to make a plaster cast of her handprint. We mixed up the rubbery molding material, dumping it into an aluminum foil pan, after which she made an imprint of her left hand. The next step involved mixing up plaster, and pouring it into the impression left by her hand, a task we decided would be best performed at Grandma's house because it would take several hours for the cast to dry. Spartacus snoozed while Mom and I chatted, sipping coffee, petting Simon and Lilly, and watching the Olympics. As we tried to distract the dogs from their attempts to manipulate us into taking them outside, Mom described how excellent certain aspects of Jerney's memory are, such as her recall of names for people and animals she's only met once, whereas other areas give her a fair amount of trouble. For instance, she calls me Aunt Kris, but doesn't yet understand that I am her father's sister. Although Mom's house is full of family photos of Jerney's daddy and me with the rest of our siblings, all of whom she can readily identify by name, she doesn't quite grasp the nature of our relationships to one another.
     Right around 6:30 or so, Jerney told us she was hungry. She kept asking if there was a restaurant close by that we could walk to, and I told her, "Yes, there are restaurants we can walk to, but it's just too hot to walk." We decided to go to our favorite burger joint in Decatur. Aside from offering delicious, grass-fed beef burgers, cold draft beer, and a decent kids' menu, which to Jerney's delight featured chicken "lollipops", Farm Burger is only a five-minute drive from our house. As I was in our room, getting myself ready to go, I came across a bunch of colorful elastic beaded bracelets I thought Jerney might like. After adorning her wrists and ankles with this newly acquired jewelry, Jerney climbed into her hot pink car seat, immediately reaching for a portable DVD player which was sitting between us. She amused herself for those five interminable "car minutes", singing along with the Strawberry Shortcake video, looking up expectantly several times to ask, "Are we there yet?" Once we finally reached the restaurant, Jerney insisted upon using the wooden skewers from her chicken lollipops as chopsticks, complaining not only that her chicken was too hot, but that she was too hot to eat her chicken. Hoping to abort any further drama, I quickly fashioned a fan from my place mat. My plan worked like a charm. As I sat there fanning her, feeding her French fries one by one with the makeshift chopsticks, she managed to eat most of her chicken, coloring happily with crayons on her place mat, permitting the rest of us to enjoy our meals, whine-free. On the way home, Jerney wondered aloud why we lived so far away from the restaurant. To a five-year old with a nascent concept of time, five minutes in a car is no different than the fifty minutes it takes to travel back to Grandma's house, or the nine hour drive she regularly endures to visit my sister in Columbus, Ohio. I just had to laugh at the irony of it all, especially given poor Spartacus's desperate two day struggle to get back home, because Jerney's simple inquiry, "Are we there yet?" poses one of the most complicated philosophical conundrums we grapple with as adults. It's a question I've finally stopped asking myself. In much in the same way as Simon and Lilly can't remember having just been outside, and Jerney equates minutes with hours, perhaps somewhat similar to how Spartacus viewed his never-ending journey, I prefer to think I'm always just arriving.
Jerney, being a tree.

Eating something yummy with a teeny, tiny spoon.

11 comments:

  1. In response to your question 'Are we there yet?'
    I like to think that the best is yet to come and I am yet to live my greatest day. To think otherwise is to accept that the only direction left is down D. O. W. N.

    I'm jealous of the hot weather you are having in Atlanta whilst I languish in the humid rain today with a couple bouts of thunder, after almost 5 days of sunshine.
    Kris, you got to train the dogs to take each other out for a walk and return to the house at a particular time, that way, you don't have to walk them as often when Spartacus in not available. ha ha ha.

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    1. I will gladly trade your rainy humidity for my sunny mugginess, RPD. I like your dog-training idea; might have to give that a try! Regarding the best is yet to come, I'm also an optimist. Hopefully, you'll enjoy sunny days in the week to come!

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  2. Dear Dr Landt,
    My name is Michał Palacz and I am a PhD student at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. I am currently writing a dissertation on the history of the Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

    While I was looking for information about one of the students of the Polish School of Medicine, Władysław Piotr Mazur, I came across your blog. I understand that Władysław Piotr Mazur was your father and therefore I would be extremely grateful if you could help me with my research by sharing some information about your father’s life.

    If you think you would be able to help me and if you have any questions about my PhD project, please contact me by e-mail: M.A.Palacz@sms.ed.ac.uk.

    Thank you very much in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours sincerely,

    Michał Palacz

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    1. Michal,
      I will contact you by email...I'm very happy to assist you in any way I can! My father would have loved knowing of your research into the history of his medical school.
      Kris

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  3. Kris, I love the deft and seamless way you contrast the various perceptions of Time in this post. Time may not be relative, but our sense of it certainly is.

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    1. Thank you, NP, and you're absolutely right about our sense of time.

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  4. Jerney is a cutie, pretty eyes! Funny image of you fanning her and feeding her French fries at the restaurant...lol! “Are we there yet?” is a complicated philosophical conundrum, I agree. I like your idea of always thinking you are just arriving. If you’re always arriving, then you are always “there” and no need to ask “are we there yet?” Well, in theory anyway. Btw, I feel your pain about the heat and humidity and dog walking! :)

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    1. Madilyn, Jerney is a never-ending source of amazement for me. I don't want her to grow up!

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  5. What a cutie patootie! Kids do bring out something special in us, and it sounds like you brought something special out of her, too. I commiserate on the heat and humidity. I just got back from a trip to Seattle and Canada (beautiful temps in the low 70s) back to the swelter of Iowa. Ugh! I can't even imagine Atlanta. I'm sweating just thinking about it. Hang in there!

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    1. Glad you had a good vacation, Janene. Hopefully, only a couple more months of heat and humidity here. Our recent $600 electric bill provoked more than a little sweat! :-D

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  6. It seems a modern time issue where loved ones find it hard to cross their paths.

    Prozac btw is the only proven SSRI in the clinical trials to reduce suicidal attempts. but it is a very nauseating drug and contributes

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