Category Archives: Parenthood

What is White Privilege?

Ferguson Police NYT 2

In a very insightful interview in today’s New York Times about race in America, Naomi Zack explains that asking yourself what the Michael Brown case has to do with you, that is White Privilege:

Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.  But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

Of course, I don’t live in the U.S. anymore, but if I did, I don’t think my fear would be the police shooting my son (but maybe the All American psycho), and that is White Privilege.

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12 Years in Chamberí

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Back in late spring 2008 just as I was reaching my apartment in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí, I noticed a strange looking vehicle driving down my street. As it got closer I saw that it was the Google Maps car. I stopped and stared it down, hoping to be immortalized on Google Maps street view. And sure enough, a few months later, there I was. At least until very recently. Google has recently refreshed its Madrid street view and I am no longer standing at the door.

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Coincidentally, just as my virtual tenure on Google Maps has come to an end, so have my 12 years in Chamberí. Tomorrow we move to a new address.

It all started back in June 2000. I had been working in Washington, DC at a small boutique law firm specializing in environmental law. I enjoyed the work and city, but quite out of the blue – and against my will – I was becoming one of the few experts on the regulation of nutrient pollution in man-made water bodies (for those who care, Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act). However that may sound – exciting or excruciating – I was in my late 20s and didn’t want to be typecast so early in my career. In other words, the time was ripe to make a change. I chose to move to Madrid where I had close friends and a plan: do an MBA at Instituto de Empresa right when European business schools were taking a giant leap in competitiveness vis-à-vis their American counterparts.

So, in the Spring of 2000, I co-published an article entitled “Politics, Pollution and TMDLs: New Directions in Point and Nonpoint Source Liability for Watershed Restoration” in a now long-defunct trade magazine that no one ever read, and by summer I had quit my job , moved to Spain and the rest was history.

While looking for an apartment in Madrid, I moved in with an old friend and his then girlfriend in Chamberí. It took me two months – during which his girlfriend didn’t know which one of us to strangle – until I finally found a nice apartment in the very pijo Salamanca neighborhood.

But after one year in Salamanca and just as my MBA was coming to its end, my landlord – taking advantage of the end of Peseta – was in a rush to sell off the apartment, and I was left homeless. I had no idea whether I was going to stay in Madrid or move back to DC, but I needed some time. My friend who I had stayed with in Chamberí had just broken up with his girlfriend and – against what you would imagine – encouraged me to move in with her and help out with the rent until I could figure my next move. To make a long story short, she ended up taking a job in Barcelona, and I took over the management of the MBA program I had just graduated from along with her apartment.

That was 12 years ago.

In the meantime, I became a fixture in my neighborhood. I have my vegetable market, butcher, cheese guy and fish monger. I do the vast majority of my shopping locally. And when I walk down the street, everyone says hello and knows my name. It helps that my son was born at the hospital down the street, and all of the old ladies want to play with my curly-haired little boy.

While living in this house, I married, changed jobs three or four times. I have gotten good news and I have gotten bad news, and as mentioned, our son was born. I have watched as the local kids were born and grew up, and I have seen my neighbors grow old and pass away. I once even saw a neighbor begging for money in the metro.

And isn’t that what is so special about living in a city? In the U.S., we don’t really have cities. By cities I mean a place where people of all ages and classes live in the same buildings, walk the same streets and buy their groceries in the same stores. In Chamberí, I have had all of these: the old ladies, babies, teenagers, immigrants in the cheaper interior apartments and the bourgeoisie with their balconies. And of course, outside you see beggars and drunks. You are exposed to all faces of humanity.

But now after 12 years, it’s time to move on. We’re moving within walking distance to where my son will start school in September. And we are very excited to move to a bigger, more comfortable space. Nonetheless, while it is technically still within the city (and definitely a far cry from the American suburban life), we will lose my querida Chamberí barrio lifestyle.

Twelve years. That may be the longest time I have ever lived at one address. Almost as long as the house where I grew up. I don’t feel anything close the attachment I feel for my childhood home, but I will definitely cherish its place in my life.

Goodbye to 12 years in Chamberí.

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Filed under Digressions, Living la vida española, Parenthood

Me, Myself, and I

modigliani boyWhen I was growing up, I never looked anything like my father. Everywhere I went, everyone would say, “you look just like your mother”.  To which I – thinking I was clever – would respond, “no, she looks just like me.”

I remember back in sixth grade science class when we were studying genetics and DNA, we were supposed to make a chart showing what features we got from each of our parents. I had my mother’s blond hair and blues eyes, and both of my parents were tall, but I still needed to list something I got just from my father. When I asked my father, a physician, what physical characteristic I had inherited from him – and only him – his scientific response was my maleness. You can only imagine the look on my teacher’s face when I told the entire class of twelve year olds what feature my father had bestowed on me. Of course, I was insightful enough to have qualified my answer as having come from a medical professional.

A few decades later it really didn’t affect me at all when my son was born with a startling resemblance to his mother’s family, save for his cleft chin. He has dark, chocolate eyes, curly hair, and lush lips. I don’t need my child to look like me, and to be honest, he is probably better off looking like his mother. But, no matter how much I observe both his physical characteristics and his gestures, I simply do not see myself in him.

Nevertheless, when I look at myself in the mirror, and I can’t pinpoint exactly what is that I see, I always see him in my reflection, staring back at me.

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Filed under Married to a Moroccan, Parenthood

Reasons to Love Santa

Cenk Uygur wrote this “Why I Love Santa” article a few years back, but I just found it today. I also love Santa Claus and Christmas and love them from a very, very secular viewpoint. I love the childhood wonderment and innocence, the underlying “white lie” we uphold just because we recognize the value in childhood wonderment and innocence, and because it is a time when “we” go out of our way to do something special for our children but give all the credit to some fictional other. And that’s pretty special.

But mainly I love Christmas because I must have had wonderful Christmas’ when I was a child, and every year at Christmas time, I play all of the music and do all of the decorating to get back that feeling of being surrounding by my parents and grandparents:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on your troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on your troubles will be miles away

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us, once more

Through the years we all will be together,
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Many times over the past few days, my wife has caught me distant, looking out into the empty space. And when she asked me what was wrong, I’d say, “Oh, nothing, just thinking”. But in my mind I was digging up the images of spying on the tree first thing Christmas morning or driving over the George Washington Bridge from one set of grandparents to the other.

Christmas is the recycling of nostalgia. And while the George Washington Bridge is no longer on my horizon and my parents have just spent their first Christmas alone without their kids in forty-two years, I have taken over the role of Santa Claus and will hopefully fuel a lifetime of nostalgia for Christmas in my son, even if some boozer from up north gets all the credit.

Anyways, enough about me. Here is Cenk’s wonderful piece: Continue reading

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“How Much Do I Love You”

Parents shouldn’t fool themselves: it’s not that their child is a genius, it’s that all children are brilliant. It’s simply the nature of childhood.

So even though my kid, almost two years old now, may not be exceptional, it sure feels like it.

My wife speaks to our son in Moroccan Arabic, I speak to him in English, and we live in Spain (and he’ll probably go to French school). He is already able to completely distinguish between Arabic and English, and he instantaneously translates conversations between himself, my wife and me. So for example, I will tell him to ask my wife, “are we going outside” and he will immediately replicate what I have said in Arabic. When he asks my wife for something in Arabic and she says no, he’ll turn to me and repeat the question in English. And when he picks up the phone, he says, “Hola, muy bien, muy bien”.

One of the rituals my son and I have established is that every night when I put him to bed, we read three stories and sing a handful of songs. These songs change over time. Right now his favorites are “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer“, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, and “Jingle Bells”. Amazingly just after two weeks of singing Christmas songs, he already knows all of the lyrics and insists that he sings them all by himself.

We’ve already gone through a wide range of song phases that have included variations of “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Old MacDonald”, and the “Farmer in the Dell”, where I am required to change the lyrics to include different vehicle types (firetrucks instead of buses, etc) and include different family members — at his insistence — on the farm. When he was a little younger, I even sang him a host of my favorite “bedtime” tunes from Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, The Beatles, Jim Croce and Cyndi Lauper. Because I could never remember all of the lyrics, I would upload them onto my Kindle which I would then use as a cheat sheet while I sang to him. This didn’t last too long because first, the light on my Kindle became a distraction, and second because he was starting to learn more vocabulary, he wanted songs he could “understand” (ie, ones with trucks and animals).

So once I had to give up my Kindle cheat sheet, the only song that I could remember all of the lyrics to was my favorite Irving Berlin standard, “How Deep is the Ocean (How High is the Sky)“. But, he never much appreciated this song (once again, no wheels going round), so I always used it as the last song, just as he was starting to fade.

But I hadn’t sang “How Deep is the Ocean” in over two months.

Until last night. Out of the blue, he interrupts “Grandma goes to sleep, Grandma goes to sleep, hi-ho the diary-oh, Grandma goes to sleep” to insist that I sing …. “How much do I love you”, as in “How Deep is the Ocean”:

How much do I love you
Let me tell you know lies
How deep is the ocean,
How high is the sky

How many times a day do I think of you
How many roses are sprinkled with dew
How far would I travel to be where you are
How near is the distance from here to a star

And if I ever lost you,
how much would I cry
How deep is the ocean,
How high is the sky

And just now as I was telling him that we’d finished the last song, he once again insisted, “How much do I love you.”

Note my favorite version is the one by Joe Williams.

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Filed under Jazz, Married to a Moroccan, Parenthood

My Year in Books 2011

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While I thought that getting any reading done during my first year of parenthood would be close to impossible, I have actually been able to take advantage of my commute to and from work and my son’s nap time on weekends to get quite a decent amount of reading done.

So in the end, 2011 has been a pretty good year for reading after all, more so considering that some of my favorite contemporary authors published new books this year. Here is what I have read in 2011:

Of course with the trial and tribulations of parenthood (and a day job as an attorney), I do not have the time to write a review of each of these, though I do wish I could. Nevertheless, let it be said that I would recommend all of them.

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Filed under Literature, Parenthood

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I do apologize for not tending to Grave Error this past year. As I have mentioned already, I am quite busy these days between work and parenthood. Yet it is definitely a shame because not only do I write this blog for you — my loyal reader (no need to use the plural these days), but also because I (used to) write it as a diary to keep track of what’s going on in my life over time. And this last year has been an amazing year with plenty of major and trivial things to record. Hopefully, I will find some time to document some of this year’s special moments.

But as is tradition here at Grave Error, I did want to make a quick appearance to so mark the commencement of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. And this year I hope will be even more special as it will be my first Christmas as father — that is, of the 39 Christmases I have already celebrated, it will be the first one I celebrate with my own family. I have already downloaded all of my favorite Christmas specials and am planning on decorating the house this weekend. Tomorrow, I will start the day off with my favorite holiday tunes.

So let the Season begin!

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Hard to Find the Time

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Now after little over three months of being a father, I would think that what I missed the most from my pre-parenthood days would be alone-time and sleep.  But actually what I miss the most are (in no particular order):

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Jazz

In a sense, I have learned to compensate for each. For example, instead of writing in Grave Error, I have followed the Twitter trend (btw, follow me) . Just as “video killed the radio star”, Twitter has killed blogging (which previously killed journalism). Now I tweet what I used to blog, just in a dozen words.

While I no longer have any justifiable excuse to lay in bed and read a book (or the news for that matter) instead of sharing the parental responsibilities of an infant, I have learned to do all of my reading almost entirely on my metro commute to and from work, at the expense of listening to podcasts. Surprisingly for only a 30 minute commute, in just three months, I have already finished Jonathan Frazen’s Freedom, Ryu Murakami’s 69, Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, and believe it or not, Tolstoy’s War and Peace! And I am about to finish Rafael Yglesia’s A Happy Marriage. Not bad. Meanwhile, my consumption of other written media has been relegated to merely previewing what others post on Twitter.

Finally, with regards to Jazz, unfortunately, my baby’s ears are simply not ready yet for the angular sounds of Coltrane, Monk and Dolphy. Nonetheless, with his confusing daily exposure to Arabic, English, French and Spanish along with his multiple nationalities, I am forcefeeding my boy healthy doses of that other great and uniquely American, American music genre: Motown and old school R&B. He gets lots of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and others. His favorite songs, I have decided, are “People Get Ready”, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, and “Where Did Our Love Go”. Almost every Motown song that exists seems to have the word “baby” in the lyrics, making singing them to him appropriate at almost any time.

But regardless of those three sacrifices, I more than delighted with the lack of mobility that parenthood has forced on mommy and daddy — meaning no more weekend commutes to and from Paris. And, of course, there is my favorite substitute past time — when not changing diapers and soothing a crying baby — seen in the photo above (though now at three months he barely fits anymore).

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Santa Claus Coming to Town?

It is almost Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and that means the season for me to play Christmas music non-stop for an entire month is just days away.  There is no mystery here that I love Christmas. But, alas, this year we won’t be home for Christmas. It will be the first Christmas ever in my lifetime that I spend away from home.

The good news is that over the past few years I have done everything I can to infect my wife with the joys of Christmas, and just as I have learned to love Ramadan from her, she too is catching on. And while we spent the last couple of Christmases in the U.S. with my family there, this year we get to build our own Merry Little Christmas in Madrid. The bad news, though, the possibly traumatic news goes something like this: Continue reading

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