Every once in a while, my wife daydreams about what it would be like if we lived during a different time in history. However, her “creative” interpretation of which historical events actually happened when often prompts her to fact-check with me before launching into said daydream. For example:
Wife: When was World War I?
Me: The 1910s.
Wife: Okay, then I think I could live in the 1920s.
Me: You sure you could handle Prohibition?
Wife: Oh, that was then? Never mind. That’d be stupid.
And so this weekend, while savoring a slice of cheese from a Costco platter, she mused…
Wife: I think I could live in the Old Days. They at least had cheese, right?
Me: I guess that depends which “old days” you’re talking about. Like, what time period?
I looked up from the kitchen island to check on the Dynamic Duo. My son sat enthralled on the floor, accenting his finger-pointing at the television screen with “Oohs” and “Aahs,” while my daughter reclined on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and cradling her stuffed Piglet.
Lately they’ve become completely obsessed with ocean life: ocean puzzles, ocean books, cheap-ass toy fishing poles with magnetic fish to “catch,” and anything involving Finding Nemo or The Little Mermaid. On this particular morning they’d begged me to put on one of their new favorite DVDs–the “Shallow Seas” episode of the Planet Earth series, which is now known in our house simply as “The Fishies.”
While they were caught up in the sheer awesomeness that is “The Fishies,” I had seized the opportunity to crack open my laptop and attend to PhD shenanigans.
Two brand new sets of lunch bags and Thermoses (Thermi?) on the far counter caught my eye as I penned a particularly riveting email. We recently registered the Twins to start “school” in July and my wife–ever the planner–has ALREADY secured rad new Hello Kitty and Spider-Man lunchtime gear in anticipation. No, this isn’t the parent-child class I’ve previously mentioned. Our children will soon be attending a new “big-kid” all-day school program a few days a week–one they’ll be attending without Daddy waiting in the wings (which works out well because Daddy’s about to start on his dissertation).
We’re also mere days from launching PottyTrainingFest 2013, an event we know the Twins are ready for, as my daughter now literally approaches me with a clean diaper in hand, saying, “Daddy, I pee-peed.” (Why couldn’t THAT have caught on sooner?) Although their new school helps with potty training and even does diapers, the idea is for us to do the bulk of the work at the Pseudonymous World Headquarters and send them out into the field with a License to Potty.
Daughter: Daddy, what are doze?
Me: Those are manatees.
Daughter: Oooooooh! Look at the man-tits!
A while back I introduced you all to Ember Arts, my buddy James‘s socially proactive business. This week, Ember has launched their brand new site, including a fantastic, inspiring story penned by James about what Ember does. I’m thrilled to present that very story below, for your reading pleasure.
Civil War, Coca-Cola, and the Story of Ember Arts
Esther and her family live in a small, one-story block of grey concrete rooms in a slum outside of Uganda’s capital city. Laundry hangs in uneven lines across their little compound. When I duck into her sitting room she gives me a big, wry smile and a welcome so wholehearted I hardly know what to do with it. She serves me a Coke. Ugandan Coke, made with real cane sugar, is transcendent.
Not too many years ago, Esther was beaten with the business end of a machete by a rebel soldier. She showed me her big, raised scars. The rebellion drove her and her family from their home, making them, suddenly, poor refugees in their own country. She found shelter in the Acholi Quarters slum and found work crushing stones in a local quarry. The work is grueling, done sitting in the hot sun with a makeshift hammer, and pays, at best, $1 per day. It was all just barely enough to stay alive.
But Esther is not content to just stay alive. Esther is one of those special souls whose dreams simmer near the surface, just behind the eyes, who will keep chasing her dreams no matter what she has to overcome—civil war or otherwise. She started trying little businesses, like selling bananas and charcoal, to get money to send her kids to school. Soon she bought a little piece of the rock quarry as an investment.
These days Esther makes jewelry for Ember Arts and helps lead the other women who work with her. She is building a home for her family and running a couple small but successful side businesses. Her oldest son is in college. Some day, Esther told me a couple years ago, she’s going to buy herself a car and park it in her own driveway. I can’t wait to sit shotgun.
“Are you done yet?” my wife groaned.
It was almost 11pm on a Saturday and I’d been working non-stop since breakfast. I could tell she was getting annoyed with me, but I was almost done with my final read-through.
This was Day 1 of The 3-Day Great Comprehensive Exam-A-Thon that would be my weekend. See, near the end of a Ph.D. program, they have you take an exam relevant to your field of study that’s reviewed by faculty in your department who basically decide if you’re competent enough to start the final stage of your program–the dreaded dissertation. Sometimes it involves a major project done over the course of a few weeks, and other times the student is essentially locked in a room for several consecutive days to cuss at bubble sheets and essay response booklets. In my case, I was handed about a 90-page packet (not an exaggeration) which provided directions and resources for writing four different papers–each of which was to be 6-8 pages long, due in four days.
Fortunately, these four days started on a Friday and I was allowed to complete the exam from the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately, I have twin two-year-olds in my own home, who, from the moment I enter to the moment they collapse in their beds, shout spirited requests of me. Here are some of their greatest hits:
“Daddy! Sit down dare. Read book-y.”
“More juicy! Pleaseokaythankyou! Apple juicy. Yesokay!”
(performed melodramatically by my son, hanging from one monkey-hand on the pantry doorknob, usually fifteen minutes after refusing to eat a single bite for dinner)
Since I barely had any work time on Friday, I was hitting it hard on Saturday, and decided that while I was still fresh, I’d hammer out two of the four papers, leaving the remaining two for Sunday and Monday. My wife was incredibly supportive, taking the kids out for the day while I pounded coffee to a soundtrack alternating between death metal and utter silence, my fingers furiously pecking at the keyboard.
It hadn’t been pretty, but I was now finally finally finally closing in on my goal for the day. Still planted in my seat at the kitchen table, I was looking over Paper 2 for any final edits when my wife, who was in our bedroom watching tv, suddenly became strangely persistent.