Eitan the Celebrity

My family and I are currently in Singapore visiting family. I decided I’m going to write about the trip, both to tell our friends and relatives how the trip is going and to give us another way to remember the trip after it’s done. Today’s post was actually written by my wife who has also posted a number of times before. Enjoy!


 

My mother always told me not to point and stare. If I saw someone who looked “different,” my parents always explained to me that it is not polite to point and stare. Instead, I should ask them or the person questions about what I had seen. I know that there are different times when people stare at others and, sure, I’m guilty of doing it too. But coming to Singapore has left me with a new feeling about pointing out a child who is cute or drawing attention to someone in public. In almost every place we have gone, Eitan, our little blonde-haired, hazel-eyed American boy, has been smiled at, waved at, petted on the head, taken by the hand, and then talked about in a different language.1

I am usually one of the first people to comment about a cute baby passing by or about someone’s clothes that I think are nice. But since we have been on this trip, I believe that I will hesitate before I do such a thing in the future. I believe that most of the praise that Eitan receives is sincere, but I have been feeling ambivalent about the attention that he has been receiving from complete strangers.

Singapore is a very different place than New York. Kids play freely with minimal supervision in courtyards and sidewalks. People leave personal items outside their doors unattended (shoes, balls, bikes, etc.). We brought Eitan to get his hair cut a few days after we arrived and the receptionist left us alone in the barber shop – with full access to the cash register and MacBook – while she went to the store next door to get the barber.2 The ground is clean and I can count the number of pieces of litter we’ve seen on one hand. It seems that people really do live apart from any sort of crime. It’s almost as though we are living in the Twilight Zone. We have yet to see a police officer or hear a fire truck or ambulance siren, which is a stark contrast to the sounds we are accustomed to in New York City. People really seem to live without worry here, whereas in New York, someone pointing and speaking out in public often means that a dangerous situation is brewing. We always talk about how we wonder what our children’s lives will be like years from now based on the increases in gun violence, acts of terrorism and global climate change, but Singapore seems to be living serenely.

I suppose that living in the U.S. – particularly in New York City – has forced me to put up my guard to protect myself and my family. I should clarify that all of the attention that Eitan has received has been positive. He has been encouraged to interact with everyone, including flight attendants, wait staff, taxi drivers and other local residents. The people here have been critical in helping him to become more comfortable in his new surroundings. However, in spite of his apparent celebrity status, I think that when I arrive back home, I will be more conscious of any extra attention I pay to people or things that I see that are out of the ordinary. Aaron and I know that Eitan is cute – yes, we’re biased to some degree, but still – and that he is going to attract some smiles and some comments here and there because of his age. But in spite of the flattery, the amount of attention that people have been paying to Eitan has made me a bit uncomfortable and I would not want to put another parent in a similar position. So I will be keeping my index finger by my side and my comments to myself, even if they are intended to give compliments.

As for Eitan, we’re just hoping the extra attention doesn’t go to his head.

 


1. I’m assuming they were talking about him be cause they were still pointing and smiling. Also, the only people who took him by the hand were waiters and waitresses who were bringing Eitan to see the food that was about to be cooked for us. He never left our sight.

2. Seriously. We were completely alone in the store and she didn’t even seem to think twice about leaving us there.

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There’s Something About This Place

My family and I are currently in Singapore visiting family. I decided I’m going to write about the trip, both to tell our friends and relatives how the trip is going and to give us another way to remember the trip after it’s done. Enjoy!


 

As I’m writing, we’ve now been in Singapore for five full days and we’ve enjoyed playing tourist. We’ve seen a number of different attractions, including Chinatown, the Singapore Flyer (the world’s largest ferris wheel), a beach, Buddhist and Hindu temples and a mall.1 Everything has been interesting and entertaining, if occasionally a bit overwhelming. The food has been new and delicious, for the most part, though, to be fair, some of the most unappetizing food has been the Singaporean version of western food. For instance, when I say that the hot dogs pale in comparison to American franks, that includes the color, as well as the taste. Thankfully, we’ve only had to go that route once. It was today, in fact, when we went to the zoo.

The Singapore Zoo was pretty impressive, actually, if you disregard the quality of the lunch menu. It’s quite open, first of all; visitors are separated from most of the enclosures by a moat, as opposed to glass barriers, which gives the zoo an airier feel and almost helps you forget that the animals are actually being raised in captivity. The gibbons had four or five separate islands all to themselves, there were monkeys and ring-tailed lemurs actively interacting with the humans around them and the orangutans are basically allowed to go wherever they feel like.2 Honestly, the only animal who actually seemed “unhappy” was the polar bear and, considering the fact that he’s supposed to be living in an extremely cold climate instead of near the equator, I couldn’t really blame him.

My most interesting moment during our visit, though, didn’t involve any animals at all. It happened later in the day, after Eitan had fallen asleep during lunch and Trudy and I had been able to transfer him into his stroller successfully without waking him. We had continued walking through the zoo and stopped at a small gazebo surrounded by yellow and pink flowers and overlooking the nearby river. Trudy and I sat on one of the benches to enjoy the breeze, while Eitan snored away, blissfully unaware of his surroundings. A middle-aged Asian man and two young boys were in the gazebo when we arrived and, soon afterward, two women also came in and sat down. It became clear that the man was the father of one of the boys and one of the women was his wife. The other woman was the mother of the other boy and her husband arrived later on. While the boys were chasing each other around the gazebo, only partially acknowledging their mothers’ attempts to quiet their play so that they would not wake Eitan, another family with darker skin and dressed in traditional Hindu garb also entered. It occurred to me that, in that moment, that representatives of three distinct and very different cultures were present and everyone greeted each other with a smile. After these two families left, there was another moment about a half hour later in which representatives of three separate cultures converged in that gazebo (the only difference was that this time, one of the families appeared to be Muslim, rather than Hindu, based on the clothes they were wearing).

That was when it hit me. The people who met in the same place at the exact same time were able to coexist completely peacefully without any arguments or aggressions or pressure. We smiled at each other’s kids, wished each other well and went on about our business. There was a sense of calm about the entire hour that we spent in that gazebo, partially because Eitan slept through the entire thing, but also because of the atmosphere from the garden and the pleasant interactions we had with other zoo visitors. The flowers, the breeze and the human diversity all gave the place a feeling of positivity and hope. After trudging through the zoo all morning and fighting the heat and humidity of a tropical climate,3 we had found tranquility and comfort in a small hut with four benches and no doors or windows. The openness of the gazebo mimicked the openness of the animal enclosures, while the interactions between us and the other guests were just as remarkable as watching an orangutan cross the street in front of us while holding the hand of a zoo employee or seeing a giraffe lean over to eat vegetables out of Eitan’s hand. We were in a country that prides itself on diversity and we had just seen that sentiment play out before our eyes. We had all been able to share experiences and space, just as the street around the corner from my father’s apartment houses a Hindu temple, a Chinese cultural center and a church all right next to each other (plus a synagogue further on down the road).

There is something about this place, indeed.

 


1. Trust me, this mall was an attraction. Plaza Singapura has six floors, plus two sub-basement levels, close to thirty different restaurants (real ones, not just food court stands), furniture stores, spas, family lounges, travel agents and a supermarket. It has its own subway stop. And, apparently, it’s one of the smaller malls by Singapore standards.

2. They’re literally called “free-range orangutans.”

3. Singapore is only 85 miles north of the Equator.

Are We There Yet?

As you’ll read shortly, my family and I are currently in Singapore visiting my father. I decided I’m going to write about the trip, both to tell our friends and relatives how the trip is going and to give us another way to remember the trip after it’s done. I haven’t quite decided yet what the frequency of posts will be, but I’ll try to put up a few while we’re here and then maybe there will be some more afterward. Enjoy!


 

I’ve always been interested in the whole concept of time. The idea that it just keeps going, on and on, forever, is one of those things that tends to give me a headache if I let myself think about it too long. It’s a dangerous rabbit hole, sort of like when I start wondering about the size of the universe and how incredibly miniscule we are and whether or not we really have a purpose in our lives. Once I let myself start thinking about that kind of thing, I usually have to distract myself fairly quickly or my thoughts start snowballing and I have to go looking for Tylenol.

Anyway, the reason why I’m thinking about such heady stuff is because Trudy, Eitan and I are currently sitting in a gigantic metal box that is flying literally to the other side of the planet.  We’re on the second leg of our trip from New York to Singapore to visit my father, who is living in Singapore for work for two years, and, at this point, we’re about two-thirds of the way there. We’ve been inside this airplane for about sixteen of the past seventeen hours: we boarded at around 8:00 PM on Wednesday evening, waited through a two-hour delay while engineers fixed an air valve, took the seven-hour flight from New York to Frankfurt, spent an hour wandering through the Frankfurt airport,1 then got back on the plane to finish the trip to Singapore.

It was around noon when we disembarked in Germany, even though it felt like 6:00 AM to us. And not your usual 6:00 AM where you get up, shower and start getting ready for work, by the way. This was the 6:00 AM you saw once in a while in college when you and your friends partied really late into the night and you can’t really remember everything that went down. All you know is that your muscles ache, the armchair you tried to sleep in definitely wasn’t big enough, everyone sort of smells a little and you’re pretty sure someone in your group slept in the bathtub. Oh, and instead of being lazy and wandering through the hallways while you get your bearings, you’re navigating the crowds of people who speak a different langauge and are all wide awake because it’s actually noon and they’ve been up for hours.

Look, truthfully, the trip hasn’t been that bad. I know some of you are cringing at the idea of ending that much time on a plane with a two-year-old – and believe me, so did we – but, all things considered, Eitan has been great. He slept through about half of the first flight, and he’s sleeping now too. Even when he’s been awake, he’s played with the Kindle, watched some kids shows on the airplane television, and, of course, became great friends with the flight attendants.2 But even with Eitan being on his best behavior through 90% of the trip so far, time is still messing with us and is a bit difficult to adjust to. Trudy and I keep having to do math to figure out what time it “really is” and it’s been tough to keep track of how much sleep we’ve gotten. Plus, we also realized the hard way that everything really is relative: when we got on the plane for the second flight, Trudy and I were both pretty excited to see an estimated travel time of eleven and a half hours, since we had been expecting 14 or 15 hours. That excitement faded quickly, though, when Eitan hit his second wave of “OhmyGodIwanttotoucheverythingandIjustcan’tstopmovingbecauseI’msoovertired” about two hours in and Trudy and I each came to the dreaded realization that we still had nine more hours to go. But he did eventually get to sleep, so we’re doing all right. Honestly, the only real significant issue with the trip has been the four-year-old in the row in front of us who keeps looking over the top of the seats at us and coughing into our row and using Trudy’s armrest for balance while he jumps in the aisle. I can think of a few friends in Forest Hills who would love to have the chance to teach this kid a lesson.

The flight map says six more hours…

 


1.  The feelings Trudy and I were having during our first time in Germany, even if it was just the airport, may turn into its own blog post too. I haven’t decided yet.

2. Quick shout-out to the Singapore Airlines staff – everyone has been unbelievable, from the grounds crews to the flight attendants all the way through. They’ve been attentive and helpful and on top of everything.

Tonight I Failed You

Dear Eitan,

I owe you an apology.

Today was rough for me. The details are not really important; suffice it to say that I struggled with a number of things throughout the day. I struggled so much, in fact, that I apparently did a very poor job of hiding the anger and frustration that I was feeling. I say “apparently” because a number of coworkers asked me how I was doing and what was wrong. Keeping a calm exterior, regardless of how I’m feeling inside, is a skill at which I’m usually fairly adept,1 so I think I caught my peers somewhat off guard when my fingers kept drumming on my desk and when I kept getting up to wander around the room or down the hallway to the conference table. The usually light-hearted quips for which I’ve become known were nowhere to be found. Half-smiles and annoyed sarcasm had taken their place and would not give up their new positions. I was still fairly quiet, as I usually am, but my pursed lips and constant fidgeting hinted at the discomfort I was feeling inside.

By the time I got home, I was wound up and spent, hyper and drained. Even the few genuine laughs I had managed while listening to a podcast on the way home had done little to truly relax the stress my body had accumulated through the day. In short, I was in no state of mind to be a good father.

I hope you don’t misunderstand me; I was happy to see you when I got home. I’m always happy to see you when I get home. Whether you totally ignore me when I open the door because you’re so engrossed in whatever toys you’re playing with or whether you’re waiting in the hallway for me to come off the elevator,2 you always make me smile. You could be running around in your underwear, throwing your toys across the room and about to unleash the mother of all tantrums and I’ll still smile when I walk in.

I don’t even think there was anything remarkable about the apartment when I got home tonight. Some of your toys were spread out in the living room, you were mostly clothed and your mom, being the saint that she is, had finished making dinner. You came running over when I opened the door and said, “Hi!” You held the vowel a bit and your tone dropped at the end of the word, as though you were trying to mimic my exact inflections when I say hi to you when I come home. I smiled, returned the greeting and put away my coat and bag. We all sat down for dinner and we ate together, though your mother and I stayed at the table a bit longer than you did. When the meal was finished, I brought you into the bathroom to bathe you and get you ready for bed.

You’re weird about your bath. There was a time when bathing you was purely my domain. I missed so much time with you while I was at work that bath time became one of my chances to reconnect with you and find out all the mischief you caused during the day. Then, at some point, you suddenly decided that bath time was not always going to be straightforward. Sometimes you were going to brush your teeth and sometimes you weren’t. Sometimes you were going to listen to me and let me wash away the dirt and sweat that comes from a hard day of playing at home and at school and sometimes you would refuse to switch positions or sit still for me to rub in the shampoo. Sometimes you would start screaming until your mom came in to give the bath instead.

Tonight was a night where you let me bathe you but you didn’t feel like listening right away. You felt like playing. You wanted to sit or stand or lie down all on your own terms and it did not matter to you whether I was trying to brush your teeth or wash your body or dry your hair after you’d come out. And I, having dealt with many situations throughout the day that were out of my control, was not going to allow you to add “parenting” to that list. So I spoke sternly at you, I yelled when you didn’t move the way I wanted you to and I tossed books onto the bed without asking you what you wanted to read. I could hear the voice in my head telling me the entire time that it was silly for me to be getting so upset with you. I knew you were just trying to play with me and that you have a lot of energy because – oh right! – you’re a toddler. I knew that it was no use for me to get so angry and that I should have stepped back, taken a deep breath and tried to approach you differently. But I kept yelling because I was frustrated and stubborn and I was going to exert my will over something today, damn it.

So tonight I failed you. You deserved better from me and I didn’t deliver. I needed to do a better job of separating my frustrations about work from my ability to be emotionally available for you. I should not have let my external stress jeopardize my opportunity to enjoy some quality dad-son bonding time with you.

Fortunately for me, one of the nice things about being a parent3 is that every day is a new chance to do things better than the day before. You’re also young, so the odds are that you won’t remember one random night when I yelled at you for not opening your mouth wide enough so I could brush your teeth. And considering the way I felt about how I spoke to you tonight, that’s actually a pretty nice consolation prize.

So I’m sorry for the way I acted tonight. I can’t promise I won’t make the same mistake again, but I do promise to work harder to avoid getting into that situation. Either way, I hope you remember that, no matter what I say or how foolishly I act, I promise that I will always love you, I will always be there for you and I will always be happy to see you when I get home from work.

Love,

Daddy

 


1. Believe it or not, this is not always a good thing. In social work, it usually is because it’s usually better to portray impartiality. In relationships, though, it has its drawbacks, like your partner not being able to have any clue what you’re thinking or feeling. And, since the strongest relationships are supposed to be built on communication, it’s helpful for the other person to know what’s going through your head.

2. The first case is rare. You usually hear my key in the door and come running before I’ve even made it inside.

3. This is applicable to just about any title. Parent, spouse, co-worker, sibling, etc.