The breakfast table wore my brain out on Friday. By 7:30 we had covered peaceful protest, civil disobedience, pogroms, Nazis and religious genocide. We’ve trained the children to read the newspaper or a book so we usually don’t have to talk before 7:30. I knew we were in a for a long morning when the kids came down the stairs in full mourning for the trees that are going to be cut down in the property next to our house. I’m talking operatic “we have to spend the entire day in the trees” mourning. This has been a long time coming; various neighborhood groups made sustained efforts to curtail the transformation of the former old people’s home into an apartment unit with a giant parking lot that start about two inches from our driveway. The kids are furious about loosing green space and their favorite climbing and they are very worried about Savvy, their dog friend who has colonized a space under one of the trees. Before we left for China they launched a peaceful protest with signs, sidewalk chalk, and notes on the building to the developers. They talked a lot about a petition but I’m not sure it ever happened. However when they heard the news that the trees will actually meet their demise next week they came up with a plan of throwing play mobiles at the tree guys. After a discussion about peaceful opposition I said “what would Martin Luther King have done”. Jonathan’s response was “well that took a really long time and we only have until Monday.” Rebecca added “and he got shot.” We tried also to explain to them that the guys actually cutting the trees were not responsible for the decisions. The image of a couple of faculty brats hurling plastic toys at grounds crews is truly liberal parent hell. Luckily before we had to deconstruct that situation we moved on to discussing the Ellis Island and immigration portion of the third grade curriculum. The kids wanted to know if our families had come here in search of religious freedom. We quickly explained that describing fleeing the pogroms and the Nazis as a search for religious freedom seemed to understate the issue just a bit. Somehow we snuck religious genocide and socialism in there before running down the street to catch the bus.
After we finished with genocide, civil disobedience, and religious persecution I took a moment to realize that we’ve been back from China for exactly one month. Returning from China feels very different than returning from almost anywhere else I’ve been. It seems so far away that it’s almost like it never happened. When I’ve returned from stints in Rome I come back thinking in Italian, reading books I’ve purchased, carefully reading Italian newspapers etc.. But the resonances between China and anything we do in our daily life here are almost none. The most noticeable thing about the return is that we’re still not playing with a full deck. Physically we’re all still on the mend. We’re not boil free and Manuel and I both still have serious pathological not-potable-water dishpan hand flare ups. It turns out that the lack of potable water, readily available protein and dairy, and a few modern conveniences actually takes a while to recover from. I still have not eaten a grain of rice and I think Rebecca’s new fascination with top chef may be a hint that her parents need to attend a little more to her culinary needs.