Updated August 11, 2002
Waiting and Wandering
When spring arrived, we were only a few months away from the arrival of our son, Will, who was due in July. Still, we managed to take a couple of family trips. In March, we drove up to New Jersey, where I gave a presentation on teaching literature online at a conference. We stayed with our friends, Brian and Michelle Carpenter, and Brian joined the three of us for a day trip into New York City, where Essie got a real taste of the Big Apple with rides on the subway and a taxi, pizza, a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a visit to FAO Schwarz. In May, we set out again, this time with 16 college students to Boston, Massachusetts, where we visited Old North Church, the Bunker Hill monument, the Boston Tea Party ship and museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and other attractions.
March 22-25, 2001
A conference on teaching literature brought us to New Jersey, where were were able to do a little sightseeing and hook up with our friends, Brian and Michelle Carpenter, who were kind enough to put us up for a few days.
After arriving on Thursday afternoon, we joined Brian for lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, a great little place called A.J.'s Deli in Summit. After lunch, Lisa and Essie returned to the Carpenters' apartment to rest--and rest they did. Essie eventually fell asleep, and Lisa had the chance to curl up in a cozy, beautiful Victorian living room and read The New Yorker. Meanwhile, Brian and I were soaking up the history in nearby Morristown, where General George Washington's headquarters had been from late 1779 to 1780 in the midst of the Revolutionary War. We started with the museum, where we saw a number of artifacts from the time: rifles, swords, cannon, and the like. My favorite items were the powderhorns, made from the horns of cattle. To identify their own horns, the soldiers had carved designs--maps, pictures, some of them quite ornate--all over the exterior. Later, we visited the Ford Mansion, the actual site of Washington's headquarters. For the family of five who lived there, the two-story house probably did feel like a mansion. When Washington moved in with his officers, however, things got crowded. The Fords were crammed into two rooms, one of which had to serve as both bedroom for the widow and living room for the family. We saw these rooms, as well as the numerous others that served Washington and his crew: the room where the men discussed strategy, for example, and the kitchen where some two dozen went to eat. Throughout the house were scattered some interesting campaign beds--wool- and linen-covered cots that the soldiers could fold up and carry with them on military campaigns.
The next day, we took a train into New York City and spent a fantastic day taking Essie through FAO Schwarz, eating pizza, shopping, and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Saturday, Brian drove me down to Rutger's University in New Brunswick for my conference. In addition to giving a presentation called "Teaching Literature Online: A New Twist on Student-centered Learning," I attended several sessions and picked up some ideas for my own teaching.
Before climbing into the van for our long drive home on Sunday, we joined
Brian and Michelle for breakfast at the Summit
Diner, an authentic and locally famous diner in town. Although the
food was good, it was no better than the outstanding meals that our hosts had
been preparing for us during our stay: chicken curry, shrimp and orzo, and
pork loin with roasted potatoes and tomatoes. Brian even made us
homemade ice cream on Saturday night. Indeed, their hospitality was one
of the highlights of our stay.
March 23, 2001
There's something magical about New York.
Lisa, Essie, and I had just piled into the back seat of a cab in Midtown Manhattan when that thought came to me--like a neatly wrapped package handed to me by a stranger. A few years ago, I might never have accepted such a suspicious gift. I'm most at home, after all, with towering trees, creeks, and--if possible--mountains. In short, I belong in North Carolina. But I also love to travel, and one of the best weekends Lisa and I ever had was one we spent in New York City about five years ago. Now, we were there for the second time, and we had a new person along for the ride.
With Essie on my hip, New York was all new again. The train into the city from New Jersey, the subway rides, the skyscrapers, the dazzling litter of people and cars and shops and stands--everything was new and exciting. To Essie, it must have all looked like a jigsaw puzzle in disarray. We arrived in the late morning, and the first thing she wanted to do was visit a playground. In fact, we had exactly that in mind--but not the kind of playground she had ever seen. After a stop at a bakery on 79th street, we walked a few blocks and stopped at FAO Schwarz, the world's most famous toy store. Standing in the entrance, gazing up at a giant tower of toys, surrounded by hundreds of stuffed animals, Essie thought she was in an amusement park. We spent at least an hour, maybe two, playing with stuffed Barneys and Madelines, pushing around wooden train cars, and helping one or another stuffed quadraped find its "mudder." The entire time, Essie showed a wondrous innocence that I hope never to forget. Rather than shop, she was perfectly content merely to play. It was as if it never occurred to her that she could buy these things. From the menagerie of furry rhinos and tigers to the world of Paddington Bear to the land of wooden blocks and puzzles, she would play for a while and then, when I said it was time to move on, come along with rarely a complaint. She even observed, at least at first, my ground rules: she had to ask permission before taking toys off their shelves. Never prouder, we decided to break down and buy her one of the toys: a wooden farm puzzle. She was ecstatic and talked for the rest of the day about playing with it.
We were blessed on this trip with having a guide along with us: our friend Brian Carpenter, who had attended graduate school with me at the University of North Carolina. Brian had moved to New Jersey less than a year ago with his new wife, Michelle Miller, and knew his way around the city. He helped us to find a restaurant where we could sample our first New York pizza. Ray's Pizza is just what one would want from a New York pizza parlor: a narrow, cramped space lined with pizza pies: pepperoni, cheese, even one with pasta shells on top.
A taxi took us to Uptown, where the four of us split up for some grownup sightseeing. Lisa headed for the shops on Lexington Street, where she reveled in gourmet shops and more. Meanwhile, Brian, Essie, and I went for a stroll through a lovely neighborhood, past Central park, and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although I knew its reputation and had visited similar museums in Philadelphia and Washington, I was not ready for the Met. An hour and a half, which was all we could afford to spend, was just enough to stroll through the crowded Vermeer exhibition, to drop in on some of my favorite artists--El Greco and the nineteenth-century Americans--to take in some of the museum's spectacular courtyard, to see the Egyptian temple, and to catch glimpses of other treasures. Essie was inspired, as well. Before she fell asleep in her stroller, she asked--and was denied--permission to climb on a Rodin.
All of this was behind us when we sat in that cab and rode like royalty through Times Square at the end of a marvelous day. We weren't New Yorkers--Essie asked more than once where the cows were--but we were in New York, and it was magical.
June 6-10, 2001: It's 5 o’clock in the morning, and I'm standing in an Amtrak station in Raleigh, North Carolina, with my wife, my three-year-old daughter, and a bunch of strangers I'm going to take to a city I have never seen. Someone else is present, as well: our son Will, due to be born on the Fourth of July but, as our doctor told us the day before we departed, liable to come at any time.
Thus began "Beginning in Boston," a trip I planned for 16 North Carolina Teaching Fellows, college students from across the state. Having enjoyed a wonderful experience with a different set of students last summer in Philadelphia, Lisa and I planned another one this year, this time to a different city. The train was late, as trains often are, but not late enough for Ashley Whitfield, who had still not arrived at the station at 5:45, a full 45 minutes after the time I had given the students to meet me. Eighteen of us—15 students, a professor, his very pregnant wife, and a wired three-year-old—pulled slowly out of Raleigh and headed north.
Only a handful of these students had ever traveled by train, and they didn’t look much like the people in the brochures. Instead of flashing big grins and striking up fascinating conversations with strangers, they were staring blankly, headphones in their ears, or sleeping. A lot were sleeping and sleeping a lot. As time passed, however, they began to adjust. One group passed the time with cards. Others talked. Melinda, I later learned, savored the experience, going through a whole roll of film in her attempts to capture the scenery outside the window. The scenery indeed was wonderful, especially when we reached New England, where we rolled past postcard scenes of rocky beaches, deep blue water, and scores of white sailboats. By this time, however, we had been on the train more than half a day, and Essie was getting restless. Scenery, toys, books, and puzzles can occupy a three-year-old only so long on a train. “It’s been a lo-o-o-o-o-ng time," she observed. She was right, and the rest of us surely agreed. When we finally rolled into South Station in Boston, it was around 9 p.m. We took taxis to the Suffolk University dormitory and checked in. "I don't want to go to bed," Essie complained. Even waking up at 4:30 in the morning and spending 15 hours on a train were not enough to crush this girl's spirit.
Ashley arrived the next morning. Thinking we were supposed to leave on Wednesday instead of Thursday, she had missed our train and taken a different one. She was in good spirits, though, and was ready to discover Boston. Although the weather forecast had called for rain and cold for the next several days, we stepped out into a glorious morning. Indeed, our entire time in Boston was marked by some of the most beautiful weather I have experienced anywhere. The sun shone every day, temperatures stayed in the 70s or 80s, and we never felt a drop of rain. We began our first day by climbing aboard a "Duck," a World War II amphibious landing vehicle. "This is cool, isn't it, Essie?" Mary said. The next two hours turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. After a drive through Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and other parts of the city, we rode the same vehicle right out into Boston Harbor, where tour guide "Salty Magoo" invited individuals on the tour to take a turn behind the wheel of the Duck. The first to take the helm was Essie, who accepted the responsibility with perfect aplomb, indeed demonstrating far more calm driving an amphibious landing vehicle through Boston Harbor than her mother showed in watching her do it. Two of the more adventurous students on the trip, Mary and Jennifer Z., took turns, as well.
The anticipation of our afternoon destination, the Boston Public Library, did not exactly stir the souls of my fellow travelers. After a fine lunch at Davio's in Beacon Hill, I decided to make the library optional. I still went there and saw a number of striking murals, including a depiction of the life of Percival of Arthurian fame. I also spent some time in the library's delightful and refreshing courtyard, where I struck up a conversation with a local and learned some things about the library and nearby Cambridge. I later learned that Mary and Jennifer Z. also took in the library. Other students went their own ways.
I arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts that evening to find that some of the students had been there for a while. Some, it turned out, had already had a brush with greatness--though one that did not involve Picasso or Van Gogh. Almost breathless, Matt accosted and interrogated me. Did I watch "Malcolm in the Middle"? Yes, I replied, I had seen it. The boy who plays the youngest brother on the show, Matt reported, was in the museum, and he and a few other students had seen him. I'm not sure how the other students--or the "Malcolm" star, for that matter--felt, but it was clear that Matt's day and perhaps his whole trip was made.
The next day began with another brush with greatness, but this time the Canadas were the ones breathless. There in Boston Common, in front of the Freedom Trail information booth, in living and breathing person, were two stars from Zoom, a children's show that Essie watches on PBS. Lisa spotted them and pointed them out to Essie, who seemed a little confused by the whole incident, but nonetheless shook hands with Caroline. Like us, the Zoom kids were touring the three-mile Freedom Trail. Unlike us, they were doing it for a national television audience. Over the next eight hours, we saw them again, this time at Old North Church, as we took the trail to several Boston landmarks: Old South Meeting House, bustling Quincy Market, Paul Revere's house, the graveyards where Cotton Mather and other New England notables are buried, charming Charlestown, Bunker Hill monument, and the U.S.S. Constitution. Although I enjoyed the lunch that Lisa, Es, and I had at Union Oyster House, the nation's oldest restaurant, the highlight of the afternoon for me came near the end of the trail at the Bunker Hill, where seven exhausted students--Terry, Shelly, Matt, Josh, Ashley, Melinda, and Holly--mustered the energy to join me in a climb the 200-odd steps to the top of the monument and enjoy a fabulous view of Boston from across the Charles River. After a delightful evening ferry ride back to downtown Boston from Charlestown, we returned to the dormitory, later gathering for a picnic on Boston Common.
The next day we returned to the water, this time to visit the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, to have lunch at Legal Seafood, and to see the New England Aquarium. Though interesting, the Tea Party Ship was not exactly aimed at college students--a fact that became apparent even before we were asked to place feathers on our heads and chant. The mock town meeting that preceded our boarding, I suspect, left the students cold, but Essie was inspired. As I sat watching the presenter, I noticed a flash; Essie had managed to get a hold of our camera and had decided to capture this moment on film. I laughed, as did some of the students seated behind us. Then we heard a series of clicks. It was Essie again, now advancing the film for another shot, which she took. As the picture here clearly indicates, this girl is a natural photographer. Notice the keen sense of composition, the daring use of lighting, the uncanny sense of timing. After a fine meal at Legal Seafood, where some of us topped off lunch with Boston Creme Pie, we all went over the Aquarium, where we saw penguins, a giant tortoise, a shark, and, of course, scores of fish. The students were on their own for the evening. Some went shopping, some went out to eat, and some joined me at Fenway Park for a baseball game between the Red Sox and Phillies. A lifelong baseball fan, I was thrilled to get to see Fenway Park. From a spot in the outfield bleachers not far from the Green Monster, I watched something close to a perfect baseball game. The Sox won 3-1 on great pitching from David Cone and three home runs. I even got to see one of my favorite baseball moments--a play at the plate (out!). After the game, Kenneth, Josh, and I took turns snapping pictures of each other in the ballpark.
The next day, our last full one in Boston, I took Essie to a children's museum, where we played house, pretended to camp out in a tent, and even watched a play. In the afternoon, the students explored on their own. Some took a tour of the Black Heritage Trail, and many took the T over to Cambridge to see Harvard and its environs. In the afternoon, I made a special trip to Boston's science museum, which by a wonderful coincidence was showing Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure on its Imax screen. I had just finished reading a book about the Sir Ernest Shackleton's amazing journeys a few months earlier and enjoyed seeing the spectacular Antarctic scenery on a billboard-size screen. Later, Lisa, Essie, and I went to see Harvard. Apparently, we chose the wrong time to take the T, however, because it was jammed. "Look at all those people," Essie said as the three of us stood shoulder to shoulder with a few billion other people. When even more tried to pack into the same car, she sensed trouble. "Oh, dear," she said. Nevertheless, we escaped and enjoyed a couple of hours in Cambridge, where Essie got a piggy-back ride through Harvard yard.
That evening, all of us regrouped in the dormitory for pizza and a debriefing. Essie played photo bug again, snapping pictures of the people she alternately called "Daddy's kids" and her "friends." Here and throughout the trip, I asked the students for their impressions and highlights. An evaluation sponsored by the Teaching Fellows office solicited similar information. The predictable things came up--the Duck Tour, the Freedom Trail--but so did some unpredictable things. Several mentioned the taxi and subway rides. Some even mentioned their chaperones. "There is not enough room on the page to express how much I enjoyed this trip," one student wrote. "A big part of the trip was meeting such a wonderful family."
We like to think that we plan and run good trips for students, but we also realize that the students themselves help make traveling fun. Every last one on this trip proved to be a champion traveler, cooperating beautifully and approaching everything with a positive attitude. Is it any wonder that the Canadas are already discussing their next trip? The next stop for the Canadas and the North Carolina Teaching Fellows will be Colonial Williamsburg. This time, however, there will be four Canadas. Despite our fears, Will decided not to arrive until June 28--more than two weeks after we returned from Boston.