August fun & a passion for milking snakes

Friday, August 31st


The summer break is over. The kids are back in school, and the fog was been rolling all the way up the mountain to our place, sometimes lingering all day. I realized on Tuesday, when I had the day home alone, that it was the first time I’d been alone in almost three months. It was an awful feeling; I couldn’t stand the silence and felt lonely and sad. JUST KIDDING!! It was absolutely dreamy, and I sat outside under the walnut tree (no fog that morning) plugging away on my laptop and finishing bits and pieces of things needing to be done.

Tristan is now in proper Kindergarten (last year was Transitional Kindergarten, a lovely California phenomenon), Phoebe is in third grade, and Tomas in seventh. Tomas has, for some time now, been engaged in a campaign to convince his parents that he should be transferred to a bigger school, down in town. After a few drama-loaded conversations with him over the summer, his campaign succeeded. In short, he’s a shy guy, and he would like to be able to connect with the kids on his soccer and baseball teams. He said to me, “They’re all talking about fifth period. I don’t even know what fifth period is.” So Gary and I decided he should know what fifth period is. Today he’ll finish his second week at St Bernard’s, a mid-size Catholic school in Eureka that has a reputation for good teachers and gently but firmly squashing nasty Middle School bullying and horribleness. Tomas is in heaven. He gets up early to shower and put on his uniform. (Uniform! I, public-school-kid from Kindergarten through PhD, now have a son who wears a uniform to school. Guess what? I love it! He looks so handsome in his grey pants and white polo shirt.) He has already made a friend, a good student named Logan. Tomas is cheerful in the morning, and he does his homework cheerfully, and he’s cheerful when he comes home. He’s just so damned happy, and he loves fifth period, and first period, and second, as so forth. He also looks back happily at his experiences at Kneeland School and is looking forward to when he’ll next see his friends from there. I’m so happy with Tomas’ perseverance in his campaign, and with our decision a few weeks ago.


Phoebe and Tristan remain at Kneeland school. They, too, are happy. Phoebe has a new classmate – a third grade girl – whom she now calls her BFF, and Tristan has a new classmate, as well, the BFF’s little sister. Over the summer, magical fairies stocked the sandbox with loads of marbles and shiny colorful stones, so the kids come home each day with new treasures. And sand in their shoes.


August was sunny – though not hot – and busy with fun stuff. Even our August trip down to UCSF ended up being extra special. I took all three kids, and Oma joined us so that Tomas and I could walk down the street from Family House to ATT&T park to catch a Giants game. We were given tickets by Gary’s uncle’s friend, who has the truly esteemed position of maintaining the field at the stadium. Holy smokes we had the best seats ever! From the fourth row behind the bullpen I could have reached out to high five Buster Posey had he offered. (He didn’t offer.) Unfortunately, in addition to having the best seats ever, it was also the dullest game ever, with no score til well into the sixth inning. As the ninth inning began, it looked like the Giants would win. Tomas was freezing and begging to leave (arrrrggggg why didn’t he bring the jacket I told him to bring?!), so we began to make our way out of the stadium. Then, with two outs already and three on base, the Astros hit a big one and won the damned game. Poor Giants. Had I still been in my seat, I would have reached out to give Posey a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

The next day, fresh out of chemo, Tristan and I returned to Family House to find that the lead singer from the band Train and two of the other band members were making a surprise appearance there. Together with Oma, Phoebe, Tomas, and dozens of other Family House folks, we watched Pat Monahan and his pals perform Hey Soul Sister, Play That Song, and Drops of Jupiter. What fun! Tristan sat up front with a Hungarian family we’d made friends with, and engaged the band in all kinds of banter, including a request for a song that’s not theirs. (He has three or four favorite songs, which range from good stuff like U2 to some real crap. It was the crap he requested, to the great entertainment of the whole crowd and Pat Monahan, who worked a few lines from the requested song into the Train song he sang next.) [Right photo below: Family House 2018]

In addition to the San Francisco fun, we had several fabulous visits during the month. Our good friends Peter and Laurel, who live just north of Ukiah in Redwood Valley, came for a few days with their grandsons Max and Luke. The boys were staying with them for the week, but as luck would have it, for the second year in a row, fires nearby blackened the sky with smoke and barred any outdoor activity. To escape a week trapped indoors with two energetic little dudes, Peter and Laurel brought the kids to Kneeland. It was absolutely loads of fun. All the kids ziplined. They rode Bella. They played with the dogs. They played chess and Uno. We took them to a birthday party. Max and Tristan slept side by side, wedged snugly under the eaves that slant above Tristan’s bed.

In late August, we had a wonderful visit from English friends who had lived in our neighborhood in Bogor. Their older daughter, Millie, who is now fifteen, and Tomas had been to school together at the International School of Bogor, and Tomas was a frequent guest in the family’s swimming pool, where he splashed around with Millie and Ines and Robert and Alex and gobs of other neighborhood kids. Soon after we left Indonesia, Jacqui and Terry adopted a baby boy from the orphanage where Tomas had spent his first ten months. Caleb is now five, just a few months younger than Tristan. It was such fun to be together again; we reminisced about fun weekends together in Pelabuan Ratu on the southern coast of West Java, the ungodly traffic involved in getting there and back, and the gin and tonics (standard tropical expatriate drink) consumed together at someone or another’s house. Jacqui, Terry, and the kids have recently moved to Vancouver. The re-entry ain’t easy, and we also talked about the ups and downs of leaving Indonesia. I introduced Jacqui to my Roomba, and she seemed committed to ordering one on her return to Vancouver. Roombas should be part of a standard expatriate repatriation-to-the-West package.

Also in August, my father satisfied Tristan’s frequent and persistent request that someone give him lessons in engineering. (He begged for engineering camp, but that isn’t among the local options. Weed trimming camp is a better bet…) Nagypapa ordered some fabulous kits with switches and conductors and wires and bits and pieces in different bright colors, and together he and Tristan built various things that turn on and off, light up, and make sounds. Tristan was thrilled. And, in radiant closure to the summer’s engineering lessons, the other night Tristan handed me a flashlight and explained that he had just fixed it by opening it up and bending some wires so that he could close the circuit. I guess he learned something. Good work Nagypapa!


That’s the news from August!

September has big things in store for us. Next week Tristan will have his final chemo infusion at UCSF. This is big, good news…but I have no idea how I will feel when it happens. There’s this sort of void around my heart and my stomach when I think about it. It’s just hard, I guess, to imagine this being over. It’s also scary to think, oh crap what if it’s not over. (Sweet Noah has just flown back to Philly for another go at the Car T immunotherapy at Philadelphia Children’s, after the second appeared to be losing its effect.) All that stuff. But, yes, this is exciting news, and we have great fun planned around the event. There is a special bell mounted on the wall of the clinic, a bell that we have seen each of the dozens and dozens of times we have been there over the last three years, a bell that kids get to ring when they have finished their last treatment. We will all be there for the bell-ringing, including my whole family. In the evening, we will all go out to dinner in a Chinese restaurant so that Tristan can eat roast duck.

On September 22nd, Tristan will take his final oral chemo. And on September 24th, he’ll turn six. What a month it will be!


And then, after all that, I just have to get the kid safely to adulthood…which, if the events earlier this summer are any indication, may not be easy. On top of all those, uh, fun events early in the summer, Tristan recently announced a passion for and commitment to pursuing a career in milking the venom from poisonous snakes. He has been watching YouTube videos on the subject and is begging me to let him practice on the garter snakes in the orchard. Good god, he may never give us a break.


Some additional photos…



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