Every trip to Poland, the kids get crazy about some cartoon series or other. One year it was the Russian cartoon series “Nu Pogodi.” This trip, it’s the old Czechoslovakian stop-motion series called “Sasiedzi” (“Neighbors”) in Poland. Good stuff.

W-wa Day Two: the Old Town

Sunday started like it always does: Mass. We decided to Mass at a church run by Dominican monks. But this time, we had to figure out, once again, how to get there. Google advised us to take the metro again, this time one stop further to the north, and then a 900-meter walk. As we made our way closer to the church, it became more and more evident that we were nearing the Old Town — Stare Miasto.

A family Mass, it was called, and indeed, there were a lot of families there. Throughout the entire Mass, some child or other was fussing, crying, protesting. We felt right at home.

Well, almost.

Before Mass began, K was talking quietly with the L about our plans for the day — we’ll go here, see that, meet with these people, those people — when the woman in front of us turned around and asked K to be quiet. Throughout the entire church, children were fussing, crying, protesting, and it was complete chaos for a church, and yet she turned around to hush us. As if that made any difference at all.

So easily am I side-tracked from what’s really important some time that that little gesture sat like a splinter in my mind for some time, distracting me from the Mass, distracting me from so much that was going on around me. I felt slighted, personally insulted. And I’m sure K thought nothing of it.

Indeed, when the Mass reached the point in the Liturgy of the Eucharist that everyone turns to each other and says “Pokoj z toba,” she turned right around as if nothing had happened, gave the biggest smile, and wished us all peace. And I immediately felt an idiot.

After Mass, we met up again with J, M, and E for a stroll through the Old Town, which is as much a paradox in Poland as anything else. In short, it isn’t old. It dates from the fifties at its oldest areas, and the royal palace was finished only in the seventies. The reason, of course, was simple: the Nazis destroyed everything. Hitler commanded his retreating armies to raze Warsaw, resulting in 80-90% of the city being destroyed. The Nazis made a concerted effort to eradicate all traces of Warsaw’s cultural heritage, essentially wiping Warsaw from history. According to one article, it was

one of the most ambitious projects in human history was initiated. No one had ever attempted to reconstruct the monuments of a war-torn city on such a scale. The decision to do so was also in blatant contrast with the prevailing conservation doctrine of the times. After the war, when faced with rebuilding a town which had been virtually erased from the face of the earth, Germany, the UK, Holland, France and Italy reconstructed only selected individual historical buildings. The reconstruction of Warsaw followed exactly the opposite tactic. (Source)

But like everything, political motivations joined with other catalysts and the project got under way. (Click on pictures for larger view.)

When you walk around that reconstructed area, then, it’s hard to feel anything but admiration for Poles. It speaks to a stubborn clinging to culture, to roots, to history, that has helped the Polish nation survive, literally. After all, Poland for a period literally disappeared from the map, gobbled up by greedy empires to the east and the west. That the country even existed for the Nazis to attack was something of a miracle, and it should have been a warning to Hitler that Poles would not just roll over and give up. The reconstructed Old Town bears more evidence of that.

As we were walking, I explained all that to the Boy and the Girl. L was fascinated and saddened; the Boy just asked questions about the technical aspects of it. How, for example, was the royal palace blown up and destroyed completely? Did bombs send it up into the air? Did it crash down and break? How can we be walking through it if it was destroyed?

We spent a good bit of time in the royal palace, which seemed to me at first to be a bad idea. I didn’t think the kids would particularly like it, but as I often am when it comes to my own children, I was surprised. L, the artist, enjoyed looking at some of the paintings, especially the huge historical paintings of Jan Matejko.

His Rejtan, which pictured the First Partition of Poland, captured both our attention and seemed a good example of what’s possible for the Girl’s artistic creativity: Matejko, it seemed, wasn’t a stickler for historical accuracy, placing people in Rejtan that weren’t even in the area, let alone in the room, at the time. So pink unicorns with green spots and blue stripes are not really all that significant when it comes to lacking in “realism,” whatever that might be in art. (That’s not to say that the Girl paints pink unicorns with green spots and blue stripes. She’s more likely to paint Apollo these days. Still, she might, on a whim, put pink Speedos on him.)

Then there’s Matejko’s attention to detail. He researched his subjects meticulously. When he got a chance, he examined cloth from the era of the painting, and when it was available, armor from the time of the painting’s subjects.

By this time, though, both the kids (as well as J’s and M’s son E) were getting a bit tired. There’s only so much of “look but don’t you dare touch” that a five-year-old and a seven-year-old can hear. There’s only so many ridiculously ornate rooms (by our standards) one can look at before one gets a little overwhelmed by it all. So we walked to the banks of the Vistula, took a walk, and eventually made our way to a ferry crossing.

Along the way, a few sights completely unknown to Americans, like a group of priests and seminarians walking along in cassocks, sun glasses, and baseball caps.

Or men wearing the same sort of minimalistic swim trunks that I wore as a competitive swimmer twenty-five years or so ago — Speedos we called the no matter the manufacturer, and I always wore baggy shorts over top of them until the very last moment before the race. And here, they’re the standard swim suit.

Once we crossed the river, we met up with M’s brother, B, and head to M’s and B’s family home, where K and I were visiting many years ago when Leszek Miller, then-prime minister, signed the documents that made Poland a part of the European Union. Such lofty ideas were nowhere to be seen during this visit, though. It was all about the usual: family, life here versus life in the States, and the like. “Tell us, hour by hour, what does a typical day look for you guys in the States?” B asked at one point in the evening.

In the end, to no one’s surprise, we found very few significant differences. The cost of health care might be the only difference: we pay much more than they do. But that’s a different, more political conversation…

Today’s Travels

Not entirely accurate because Google is not entirely accurate, but generally speaking. (Of course we spent no time at “Rainbow Art, PWHU,” but that was the closest Google could find, and naturally I wouldn’t publish the actual address on the internet…)

More pictures at Flickr.

Lucanus elaphus

I found it floating in a bucket out back that had a couple of inches of water from the last storm. It was still squirming, trying to escape, doomed to drown. I pulled it out and took it to the Boy to show him. He put on gloves and was eager to hold it.

Lucanus elaphus

Fear of such animals I supposed is learned, or more importantly taught. Tell a kid constantly that such creatures are out to get him, and he’ll likely believe it. Tell a girl that the only good snake is a dead snake, and she’s likely to hold that opinion for decades. But kids are naturally curious — it’s what gets the hurt. With the Boy and the Girl, we’ve tried to strike a happy medium: such insects might, like roaches, carry certain bacteria on their bodies that are not particularly helpful, but in and of themselves, they’re harmless. Certain snakes are deadly, so we should never approach a snake and try to make a plaything out of it, but an enormous black snake slithering through the grass (as happened here five years ago) does much more good than harm.

Atypical Saturday (Lent 2012: Day 32)

With people, there’s the whole additional possibility of deceptiveness. If only it were so simple with humans.

Huntington Beach 2017

We put it off several times: once, because someone was sick; a second time, because the timing was no longer convenient. Did we put it off a third time? I can’t remember. But this weekend has been a long time in the making. We were originally going to spend last Labor Day weekend at Huntington Beach, but we ended up spending Memorial Day — that seems appropriate, timing-wise, as they two three-day weekends bookend the school year.

We first went about six years ago.

Huntington 1

We fell in love immediately. We went back again at some point, but none of us can remember when exactly. It was pre-E, for sure, but that’s about all we can remember. Perhaps the link above is to our second visit? it all gets smeared in the memory. I reread the entry and find this:

Her first beach experience, some two years ago, was moderately traumatic for her. The sound of the waves terrified her, and the waves were forever chasing her form the water’s edge when she finally got the nerve to approach.

This year was different.

That first time at the ocean was at Edisto, so this must be have been our first time at Huntington. Still, it’s only a year before the Boy’s birth: when did we go again, pre-E? Again, smeared it the memory.

So I want to set about to to write down all the details of this experience I can remember, knowing that if I don’t, I won’t remember it. But I set out doing so with the understanding that I will only pick and choose, letting the pictures do the rest.

The first day we arrived and, after setting up camp, headed out to the beach. The Girl took her boogie board out to test the waves; the Boy, after a few minutes, turned to the gigantic sand box that lay all around him. Then they switched. That pretty much sums up the entire weekend: playing in the sand, playing in the waves. After all, what else can you do at the beach?

But there were the subtle changes. L, no longer afraid of the water, gradually found the courage to go out with me a little further than before, looking for more boggie-board-able waves. The Boy was at first reticent to go far beyond the last little crests and bubbles of waves that had been churning inland for some tens of feet. He finally found the courage, with a little help from K and me, to go out further, and to require less of a reassuring hand while doing so.

Day two started at Brookgreen Gardens. “We’ve been here three times now — we have to go,” declared K. It is famous for its sculptures, a fact interested me and bored L — until she started seeing statues from Greek mythology, her current obsession thanks to the Percy Jackson series.

The final day — another morning on the beach.

A perfect weekend, over all.

Fifth Birthday Party

The Boy woke up at six this morning, ready to go. He’d been worried since Wednesday when he came home with a fever: “Will I be okay by my party?” he asked. Certainly. So this morning, he had his materials packed — cars and guns and other toys stuffed into the book bag Nana and Papa gave him for his birthday earlier in the week — and by the door by half-past-seven.

Later in the morning, he was packing his goodie bags for his guests, filling them with the Polish sweets he and K had chosen at the local Russian store (of course it’s called “Euro Market” or something similar, but like most Euro Markets, it seems, it’s a Russian owner). I sat down and glanced at the “Time Machine” links just at the bottom of the page as is my Saturday morning custom, and there was a post about holding the Boy when he was just a few weeks old.


Long gone are the days when you can hold him in the crook of your arm. Now it’s difficult to pick him up. When he falls asleep in Mass, it’s always in K’s arms, and I almost always end up holding him during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which means figuring out a way to kneel and hold a sack of concrete.

By the time it was actually time to head to the party, the Boy was more than ready, all nearly-fifty pounds of him.

The party itself was bliss for him. Many of his friends from pre-school came, as well as neighbors and kids from the Polish community. K brought some games for everyone to play, including a sack race, but in the end, what was most successful was what was simplest: E’s toys.

The Girl, though was sick, which accounts for her absence as well as Nana’s and Papa’s.

First Communion

L’s First Communion was two years ago. So quickly have those two years melted away than I still find it somewhat surprising when I see L lining up for communion. It’s one of those milestones in life — your own and your children’s — that we all remember it.

The Boy still has three years to go. When he first lines up in the communion line, L will be at the tail end of her seventh-grade year.

Roses for the mothers

And at that point, I’ll likely be writing about how it’s incredible that it’s been five years since L’s First Communion.

Mother’s Day Early

Saturday is always busy. This time of year, the lawn always needs a trim, and hedges often need their season’s taming. Tomato plants are starting to blossom, literally and figuratively, so it’s time to stake them. All fairly common late-spring Saturday work. Today, though, was a little different because of timing: tomorrow we will be going to a friend’s First Communion, so the Mother’s Day celebration had to be rescheduled.

Since I’ve neglected K’s vehicle the last few weeks, the Boy and I decided it was time to clean Mama’s car — well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but it sounds better that way. So the first thing we tackled today was the interior of the car. Every surface was exposed to an area of low pressure — e.g., vacuumed — and then wiped down. The Boy to the windshield rag and wiped down the parts of the exterior that, concealed by closed doors, never really get clean from normal washing. And of course, with the two of us involved, there was a bit of playing as well.

Afterward, the lawn got its weekly trim and the Girl prepared her Mother’s Day present for Nana.

Our Mother’s Day celebration isn’t the only thing tomorrow’s First Communion throws off, though. Tomorrow is the Boy’s birthday. “I’ll be a five-year-old tomorrow,” was a common refrain today.

So after dinner came presents. It’s a sign of his growing maturity that only a couple of the presents was a toy: a small jeep and trailer set that he took to bed with him and a Lego set that he will put together with Papa on Monday. The rest of the gifts were practical, useful even. A backpack — an appropriate, camouflaged design — will get its first test in a month when we head off to Poland. “And I’ll use it in K5 for all those big books!” he explained excitedly. A new cycling helmet to match his new bike. A flashlight so he doesn’t have to keep borrowing mine. “Daddy, I just need to…” So perhaps more than a couple of toys.

I sit writing this and glance down at the clock: five years ago, we would be leaving for the hospital in about an hour. It was Sunday night, and I was just about to drift off to sleep, some time around eleven, when K woke me and said we had to get to the hospital. A couple of hours later, we were holding the Boy in our arms. And now, in a few hours, he’ll be the same age — year-wise — as L was when he was born.

In another five years? The Girl will be almost old enough to begin learning to drive. She’ll be in her second year of high school. Entirely new worries, concerns that are now non-existent, will likely consume me. Boys will no longer be icky. A moment of inattention could result in more than just a broken glass. Her grades in school will no longer be of little consequence.

Five years used to seem like such a long time…

Thursday Evening

We get our shoes on and head down to the swing. Mama has kicked us out: she can only do two things at a time, and she’s currently baking and helping L with something, so we’re on our own.

We play around a bit, here and there, but a hard-workin’ fella can play only so long before he grows restless. He’ll pick up any sort of tool he can find and get to work, because what’s the point of doing otherwise?

You might protest and suggest, “You’re just a kid. Take it easy!” But you’ll get a protest in return.

Eventually, I manage to get the hard worker to take a break and play a little bit. We go exploring, looking for more honeysuckle. It’s all dried up. We head to our favorite spot in the creek. But nothing’s really satisfying.

We head to our hideout to spy on our neighbors, but they leave soon and we sit there.

“What do you want to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” he responds.

“Whatever you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

What makes us both happy for a time is to carry on with such silliness, but it’s getting late, and soon, the Boy will need a bath. Tugging off his shoes, he notices how dirty his ankles are at the sock line. Smiling, he repeats his favorite saying: “It was a good day.”

K is still baking when we get back in the house. The cake didn’t turn out as she wished, so she’s doing it again. She’s like that. A perfectionist. I’d probably just go buy something, but not our K.

In the house, the Girl is being silly. I take the camera and snap some closeups. Instantly, the silly faces appear.

A satisfying Thursday evening.