My adult life has two distinct phases: Before Zephyr (BZ) and After Zephyr (AZ). Our son arrived on a cloudy, crisp Friday at the start of 2013. One minute I was a husband, a son, a brother, a friend — just a guy, really. The next I was a dad, a role that immediately felt like it superseded all others.
The only thing I knew for sure about this next stage was that life was about to change in countless ways, some predictable, others a complete surprise. One shift I didn’t count on was the way Zephyr helped me rediscover the D.C. region, revealing new sides, hidden corners and novel experiences.
Like many, I’m a transplant, arriving in the sweltering summer of 2006 to complete a master’s program. When it finished, I stayed and convinced my then-girlfriend, now wife Indira — a George Washington University Law School alumna — to move back down. In those breezy BZ years, Washington was a place we explored and enjoyed mostly after work and on the weekends. Concerts at the now-shuttered Rock & Roll Hotel until the wee hours; frequent date nights at 2 Amys; waking up whenever on Saturdays to have a haze-clearing brunch before spending a leisurely afternoon traipsing through the Hirshhorn.
Those days, there was never much of a rush. We felt like we had bottomless buckets of time. Everything was endless.
We were so naïve.
From the start, the AZ years could not have been more different. The changes were immediate, the shocks intense. Zephyr slept an enviable amount every day while we survived on whatever time we could grab in between feedings, changings, stroller trips around the neighborhood and snuggle sessions — not to mention our jobs.
We attempted to carry on with our former social lives but it was untenable. Late-night concerts, romantic dinners for two and meandering museum visits faded from the calendar. We found other routines, fresh rituals, previously unmapped spaces.
First came the playgrounds. As soon as Zephyr could walk, they couldn’t get enough time on them. Their energy and enthusiasm was boundless. Up the ladder, down the slide, across the rope bridge, through the tunnel, onto the swings, into the sandbox. Again and again until I trundled them away.
It felt like we visited them all — from the farmers market themed play area at Turkey Thicket in Brookland and Beauvoir’s whimsical adventureland, to the woodsy playground in Bethesda’s Cabin John Regional Park and Arlington’s colorfully climbable Rocky Run.
I found a new concert circuit, one populated with acts like Harambee!, Squeals On Wheels and the Great Zucchini. For me, none of them compared to seeing the Flaming Lips at the 9:30 Club or Muse at the Patriot Center, but Zephyr went wild. (To be fair, when we began taking them to “real shows” — like Sigur Rós, Of Monsters And Men and M83 — they were just as excited.).
Dining out took on new dimensions. We vowed to hold the line and keep eating like adults, but accommodations were made. If a restaurant had great French fries — shoutouts to Unconventional Diner, Bourbon Steak and Et Voila! — or great noodles, it was infinitely more appealing. Ditto for spots with great desserts. After all, if Zephyr was happy us parents’ chances of being happy were exponentially higher.
Zephyr had just turned seven when the pandemic hit. It was a complete upending and reconfiguration of everything. No facet was untouched.
As the lockdown took hold and we hunkered down, our explorations stopped. No more dining out; no more concerts; no more playgrounds. There was a lot of cooking and baking, TV shows and movies, board games and puzzles. There still is.
But as spring 2020 unfolded and we began feeling comfortable leaving the house, Zephyr and I started spending hours roaming Rock Creek Park together. It was our way of trying to forget how the world was collapsing around us. There we felt completely cut off, like we were teleported to some remote island. It was eerie. Sometimes we didn’t see a single person. There was no sound of traffic in the distance. The skies were empty except for clouds and even they looked lonely.
We surveyed nearly every inch of Rock Creek — from its southern tip bottoming out on the Potomac to its northern reaches hugging the Maryland state line. We clambered over the majestic, mystic Capitol stones, the moss-covered jumble of slabs and columns that look like a lost set from an “Indiana Jones” movie. Zephyr play-fished and tossed countless pebbles into the creek’s gurgling tumble. We investigated the teepee-style stick structures dotting the woodlands, pretending they were vanished colonies and we were intrepid pioneers looking for lost friends.
The park was magical, but it was finite. Our forays began going farther afield, moving away from the epicenter of D.C. There were trips to the Patuxent Nature Preserve where we spotted beavers gently cutting V-shaped ripples into the reservoir at dusk; mushrooms of all colors and shapes popping up at every angle; mounds of gleaming gold frogs locked in orgiastic mating rituals. On the other side of the District, we investigated Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, a living library of birdlife, its waters teeming with prehistoric looking snapping turtles and darting fish. To discover these patches of wildness all around us was illuminating, invigorating, inspiring.
These discoveries might not have happened if it wasn’t for Zephyr. Every day, they push me to go farther, look deeper, think differently, consider another perspective.
I now realize before I was a father, I only knew slender bits of D.C.: mostly the parts that stayed up late and got up late. Now I see the city and its surroundings in a fuller, more fulfilling way. Despite all we lost — and are still losing — in the pandemic, every time Zephyr and I go out to explore somewhere new, try something new, I gain new understanding and appreciation for this place we call home. The best part is I know there is still so much left for us to discover together.
Snag Some Fries
Tried-and-True Date Spots
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