Marta Maria

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Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Marta's Second Birthday

Wow, could it already be two years since little Marta popped out to say 'hello?'

The morning of December 30, 2005 started with the sound of Epp hustling and bustling on a fresh caffeine high as me and the now 2-year-old Marta slept soundly in my old room at my parent's house.

I have to say I was a little annoyed when Epp woke me up and I took a quick shower to put a dent on the daily layer of grease that accumulates on my body and get ready for what looked like a very packed day. We planned to take the 10.10 am train into Manhattan and take Marta to the Manhattan Children's Museum on West 83rd Street for her birthday fun.

Because none of my cousins nor my brother have any kids, and Marta's sole first cousin lives about 3,500 miles away in Tartu, Estonia, we sort of had to compensate by treating Marta to a whole three-story "museum" brimming with violent youth.

But back to breakfast - we had cake. Marta got some bath bubbles to feed her need for "more bubbles, Issi, more bubbles." She also got a doll which bears something of a resemblance to her. My mother was very worried that her anti-social son and daughter-in-law would reject the doll, but I think it's a good doll, and it's better than those "learn to be a ho" dolls they sell that wear skimpy clothing and have dumb names like "Kimber." Have you seen these brainwashing commercials? "Kimber likes to shop at the mall and talk on her cell with her friends. Kimber likes to brush her hair all the time. Sure Kimber reads books, books about brushing her hair and shopping at the mall..." VOMIT. Not for my daughter!

But God did we have to rush! The train was scheduled to leave at 10.10 and we had to jam a whole bunch of new Christmas shit into different bags and contend with alternate plans being laid out by my father and organize, organize, organize, dress Marta. And then when we were almost to the train station, we realized that we forgot Marta's stroller(!) Ugh. We had to turn around and go back. Then at the train station we realized I had left my bank card in Epp's coat at home. We only had X amount of dollars in cash and a credit card. I thought it was going to be one of "those" days. But it wasn't. marta did well on the train, and the trip didn't seem to take that long. Instead we played with finger puppets - a pig, a zebras, a panda, and - yes - a duckbilled platypus.

We took the 2 Express train by accident and got out at 94th Street instead of 79th, but we enjoyed our long walk down the Upper West Side, which is REALLY nice. No wonder it costs so much to live there! I'd live there too if I could. Definitely beats provincial Hoboken. Eventually we came to the museum which was just a normal brick building with a big ramp. Now, all day long I had been feeling awesome about being a parent. I wasthinking about how rewarding it was, and how emotionally full I was and then I went into the Children's Museum where there was this cacophonous avalanche of screaming children and mother's with abrasive New Yawk accents disciplining their insolent brats.

In that atmosphere - hot, loud, claustrophobic - I started reconsidering the joys of parenthood. My nerves tingled in irritation. Eventually I checked out coats and we went into the melee. Marta took off. She was very aggressive in thier elbowing her way around the exhibit - Alice's Wonderland. It was very well done, my favorite part was a surprisingly empty room where the Cheshire Cat was painted in glow-in-the-dark paint, and I remembered that Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky - "'twas brilling, and the slithy toves, did gyre and gimble in the wave/all mimsy were the borogroves, and the momeraths outgrabe." I haven't shown Marta Alice in Wonderland yet, and I am sort of reluctant to do so. I am not sure when she'll be "ready."

Upstairs, Marta had fun playing with a bus and running around more rooms. Eventually we went to see a concert from the "Winter Wonderland Singers" who were pretty good. When I paid eight bucks a piece to get us in I thought the museum would rip us off every step of the way (like most museums) but the eight dollars covered everything - even the concert. During the concert I looked at the other parents. This was fun. There were parents there that looked REALLY old (gray hair etc.) You wondered, did motherhood just age these women a lot in five years or are they late menopausers? Then there were couples that looked like they were from a 1980s after school special on teenage parenting. They looked much younger - I mean the father looked like he was barely shaving. There were Hippie children with long hair and parents with dreadlocks, and Asian families, and quite a few mothers that had one in the oven while they dragged their first borns around. Altogether it showed that basically anyone that CAN have a child often DOES have a child ;)

Eventually, Epp's friend Kärt showed up with her son Aaron, who is three years older than Marta. Aaron is very energetic, but Marta tried to keep up and she did something bad to a bunch of kids building a wall out of rubber field stones - she ran up and knocked them down...just for the hell of it.

Then she ran through the exhibit "Dora the Explorer" doing more damage. She even went up to a Sikh guy (with a long white beard who she may have thought looked like Santa Claus) and gave him a hug. Part of the Dora Explorer exhibition is in Spanish and all the time I was learning more Spanish words as Marta ran around. I have a feeling she learned NO Spanish words yesterday.

After a lot of activity we left the Children's Museum and went to Central park for a walk. Marta was really hungry but by the time we got food, she had passed out. So Epp and I went for a really nice walk through Central Park. We were going to go to FAO Schwartz when Marta woke up to indulge her, but Kärt advised against it. Ultimately we flipped a coin and Central Park won. It really makes the city what it is. So much of New York City - most of the four OTHER boroughs - are ugly and crappy. But Central Park is well groomed and relaxing. It's quiet in their - and the glacial rock croppings that were fun to climb when I was a kid are still fun to climb as an adult.

Eventually we left the park to meet up with my parents down in Rockefeller Center. It WAS a nuthouse. Like a larger version of the Children's Museum. "The Tree" itself is magnificent. You can hardly see the green because of the lights, which blur into this great vision. It was SO crowded though and a bit corporate - though not in a bad way. But that's just how those places make their money - they sort of graft the spirit of Christmas onto material things - so that it's not just a sweater, its imbued with spirit of Christmas!

The night ended up back in Hoboken. It was so good to be back in our apartment. Marta came in and looked at me and said "Ooh Mõnus" (oh cool). We then went out to dinner with Ian and his friend Suzanne at Margherita's around the corner. It was good food but I was stuffed. Somewhere in the middle of the meal, Marta caught her third wind and started singing. First it was "Mary Had a Little Lamb" but later it turned into her just screaming (really loud) "Quack Quack Quack." And you couldn't get her to be quiet. Somehow the staff found out it was Marta's birthday and everybody in the restaurant sang her "happy birthday." I remember the waiter asking if we were Polish, I guess because Marta is a common Polish name. Anyway that was a good piece of apple pie and i have to say this had to be one of the best birthday's I've ever been to.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Where is Marta From?

As you may or may not know, Marta is of mixed national and ethnic backgrounds. Two of her great grandparents were Italian, one was Irish, one English and German, three Estonian, and one Estonian and Russian. She has citizenship in two countries, the US and Estonia, and so far has called several locales home.

I got to thinking of where she will eventually "be" from and I decided that Marta is a Tallinner, or Tallinnlane. She was conceived there and born there, and it's really the only place in the world she can actually say she is from.

Marta was conceived, grown, birthed, and nursed with in about a 3 mile square radius. She sprang to life in April 2003 in Kentmanni 9-51, on a bed we left in the apartment that someone else is sleeping on right now (yes, right now, it's almost 2 am there). Then she grew there and at our new digs at Valgevase 4-11 on the other side of the city - being fed lots of Estonian products, until she was birthed at Tallinn Central Hospital - right down the street from Kentmanni. She even had her American citizenship conferred on her across the street on Kentmanni at the American embassy there.

Tallinners are a unique brand of Estonian. While most Estonians have their roots in the country, the Tallinner's country connection comes either via relatives or country house. And while most Estonians are sort of grounded in their potato patches, Tallinners are open to the world. It's one of the few places in Estonia made up of a bunch of smaller, distinct places. Our child was Kalamaja baby - born into a neighborhood of old, 19th century wooden houses directly northwest from the center. But there are Nõmme babies, and Kristiine babies, Pirita babies, Põhja-Tallinn babies, Kadriorg babies, Vanalinn babies, Õismäe babies, Lasnamäe babies, Mustamäe babies - there are a lot of places to be "from" in Tallinn.

Tallinn is sort of defined by its port, but it also is defined by its business-sense. It's the sort of place that draws workaholics, worshippers of power, and over achievers. It's the money place. It even has its own Italian real estate magnet.

I can't tell what Marta will identify with most. Given her looks and Estonian language skills, she'll probably feel very Estonian. But when she is asked where she is from many years ago, she just may have to answer "Tallinn," or at least "Tallinn and New York."

Musical Exposure

This is the second installation of the Marta files. Today, I selfishly replaced the DVD of Elmo's World: Happy Holidays with a DVD that ISSI wanted to watch - Stereolab.

For those of you who have not heard of Stereolab, it's a French-British outfit that's been around for over a decade and puts out loungy, electronic music. Needless to say, the videos were a bit weird, and from the look of Marta's face, not as entertaining as Elmo.

Marta's favorite singer must be Marie Soleil, a French-Canadian TV show host who put out a bunch of specials in the early 90s. I have no idea how Marie Soleil wound up in our video collection, but from the opening notes of "J'em appele e Marie Soleil, bon jour," Marta is sucked in.

But Marta cannot dance alone. She needs a dancing partner. So she comes and grabs my arm with both of her very strong paws. "Issi, come on. Issi, come on. Tantsima!"
And so I come and we do the "Bear Claw Shuffle" and hug a bear and we dance. It'

2005: A Father Grows Up

When Marta was born I heard the comment "your life will never be the same again" a few times. My Uncle Frank can be credited with advising me that I would "never sleep the same way again," and the quote that "children are expensive" can be attributed to my brother Ian.

But I think deep inside I held out a flicker of naivety that all these older blowhards were wrong. Frank had three kids, and Ian had none. I had one. So shouldn't I be the expert on my own situation?

Right from the start let me say this - Marta has been very agreeable considering the situations she's been put through. When she was a few months old she got dragged on a trans-Atlantic flight from Tallinn, Estonia to Prague to New York, and then limo'd to Setauket, Long Island. When she was 10 months old or so it was again back across the ocean to Frankfurt, then to Helsinki, to the US embassy in Helsinki, then on a boat across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn - the city of her birth. Marta's passport has more stamps in it than my passports received in the first 22 years of my life.

In two years she has traveled farther than any of her grandparents had in their entire lives. So she's a pretty amazing kid - this is indisputable. However, in my youthful naivety I may have overestimated her ability to be thrown on my shoulders and dragged to the ends of the Earth.

When I met Epp she was an older experienced world traveler and I was sort of a sophomoric traveling type. She had been to India and China. I had done a lot of Europe. But we both came together during a period of our lives where we relished travel - the shaking up of ones surroundings in order to produce a better insight into "how to live the perfect life."

In many ways, psychedelic drugs and physical travel are similar experiences. You take the drug and it alters your perception. The next day - when you awake from that altered perception, you see your surroundings with gained insight of having experienced them differently. The same goes with travel. You shake up for environment. You surround yourself with foreignness, and in the process you learn to trust your intuition to survive. It's a rewarding experience.

I was under the impression that if we threw Marta on our backs and did a little traveling around Europe, she's be a champ. But it took one night in Amsterdam to teach me that those blowhards were right. Life has been forever changed.

The first thing I noticed about the hostel we booked in Amsterdam in July was that it was filthy. Filthy. As a backpacking youth I would have slept in and not have minded the dirty carpets and grotesque individuals. But instead with my daughter I was shocked to discover that the hostels of A-dam catered to filthy, itinereant, exhausted young people who came there to do drugs and see Van Gogh paintings. I shivered as I thought of bed lice nesting in my daughter's curly hair. We stayed there one night.

The next day we were booked in a cleaner hotel closer to the center of town. Marta had had fun in Amsterdam with us - she had been on canal rides and to the zoo and played with little Dutch kids - but that morning while watching a Dutch children's TV show she looked sick and then...hurl. She puked in our bed. Now I really felt like an asshole father. And then the sickness spread from her to my once wild and free wife. Before I knew it, I was at the Dutch apothecary buying medicine. Mr. Mom.

Marta got better when we went to Scotland, but, though she is a Capricorn, her hardy, mountain goat-like persona has its limitations. One of the first things I was reminded of in Scotland was how many people dislike children. They sort of think they are cute, but they don't want kids messing up their stuff, waking them up, puking on their sheets.

I recall I went to inquire about a tour we had registered for, and was told abruptly when I mentioned our child that children weren't allowed on the tour. The bus tour through Scotland was for 21 year olds in search of sexually transmitted diseases - not wholesome 1950s types like us. So we didn't go on that tour. Then the owner of the guest house we had booked nearly didn't let us in when she found out we had a smelly, vomit-producing child with us. She had to take in Marta's natural beauty before she agreed to relent and let my child have a roof over her head for the evening. What a saint!

And so, we dragged Marta around Scotland, pausing to play in a rundown 1970s era playground in Glasgow, and dragging her around the Isle of Arran with us. In fact, by the time we made it to the old Pictish stones on Arran during one of the few sunny Scottish days, Marta had passed out in a field full of sheep and sheep poop.
Yep, 1.5 year olds aren't built for rugged hikes in Scotland.

The highlights of that trip were meeting other children. Marta had a lot of fun on the ferry between Stockholm and Tallinn. Tired of being the penny pinching father I indulged us in a roomy suite on the boat and Marta had plenty of room to roam. She ran into the Tallink ferry discoteque a few times and had fun in the ball pen in the cleanly playroom. She was so full of energy. It felt good to be able to say, "Here. This is all for you."

From now on when we go places I am going to keep Marta in mind. I want to do things that she will enjoy. In short, I am tired of me and my needs. I am satiated. It's she who deserves a good, easy time.