Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Africa in Portland

A full day.

I got to take an elder to the Humane Society for their Tuesday "free pet" day for seniors.  She picked out a 9-year-old white with orange splotches cat named Lola who had been given up by her previous people for pissing and pooping with wild abandon.  The intake paperwork actually said "I'm at my breaking point."  My client is not functionally literate, so I made sure to explain this to her.  She's willing to take Lola on.  Lola sorta stunk of piss.

At work, a young woman from Gambia who volunteers at reception gave me a full home-cooked by her traditional Gambian dinner, enough to feed my whole family.  This evening, I opened the two containers to find some foods I'd never seen before but happily tried.  A whole fish, cut in three parts. Head, middle, tail.  Alongside it, two carrots, a white tubular root, a boiled okra, a long purple vegetable (I think an eggplant), and the hottest little orange pepper I ever did try.  My mouth burned for half an hour from one nibble from the end.  Another container of spiced rice, I'm guessing that was cooked in the fish broth.  A small container of spicy, vinegary, green sauce to put on it all.

An elder from Somalia brought his nephew to see where he spends his Tuesdays.  His nephew lives in South Dakota, and I got to tell him about how respected his uncle is, how funny and mischevious, how everyone likes him, everyone.  This elder had wrapped up in a plastic grocery bag a container of six muffins to take home for my children.  He passes on gum, candy, granola bars for them at times.  They each ate one tonight after the Gambian dinner. (to be honest, the kids tried the Gambian food but were a bit put off by the fish head in it so they ate mostly Christmas Eve leftovers and quesadillas they made for themselves).

My daughter had her first real haircut and flat-iron tonight.  It was a Christmas gift.  While we definitely make sure she knows how much her naturally curly hair is a beautiful wonder capable of braids and twists, she had been longing to experience straight hair for the first time in her life, if for nothing else to see how long her hair had grown since it was shaved off when she was four years old (almost five probably).  The stylist I had hoped to get was overbooked so we were given another one I didn't know anything about.  As we were chatting about the history of my daughter's hair, and Ethiopia came up, the stylist turned and said, "I'm from there!"  I had no idea.  She's from Shashamene where many of my clients are from.  Turns out her best friend's grandmother is one of my clients that I had just spent time with today. She also goes to the same church as my most favorite coworker, a dear friend I say I wish were my life coach.  Truly.  Small world.

My daughter has worn the following: free afro, yarn twists, box braids, flat twists, box rope twists, box braids with extensions, cornrows with extentions.  These were all beautiful and all had her looking like a little girl.  But today as her flat-iron started to take shape, I looked at her in the mirror and saw her as a teenager, and I was not ready.  I had to choke back tears.  I had to look away.  I was not ready for her to be this beautifully grown-up.  For now, this style makes her happy. She swings her hair around.  She protects her head so vigilantly from even a drop of rain, knowing it would ruin the flat-iron. She will take care of this style to hold it as long as possible.

  I love seeing her so happy, and I also look forward to taking her for cornrows in a couple weeks.  I'll do the beads myself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recorded Joy

"What is joy if it goes unrecorded and what is love if it is not shared?"

Call the Midwife, the show that sends me to bed so many night wrecked.

A moment of joy.  F, the beautiful elder from Congo who signs proudly her full name: "Fatuma" on the sign-in sheet at my job, with so much joy that she shouts and dances with pride that she accomplished her signature.

We sat at my desk with an interpreter to fill out housing wait-list requests.  It took an hour, and she got up to talk to a Congolese coworkorker as I called her doctor for her.  She was requesting an appointment.

A nurse answered right away, before Fatuma had returned.  When asked what the reason was for the visit, she would not say.  "I just need to see my doctor" the interpreter reported to me from the doorway.  The nurse explained that she needed to write down a reason for the visit, so finally Fatuma came back to my desk.

In her bright purple and pink hand-sewn dress with thick lace at the trim, she danced to her seat explaining her need to the interpreter who then erupted in laughter.

"She said that her doctor loves her and needs to visit with her once a month or she is missed...And she loves her doctor too."

My own laughter came as I explained to the nurse, and the joy spread over the phone to the nurse who laughed and agreed to the visit.  This, at a county clinic.  Health care done right.  They know her.  They meet with her because they love her.  They love her!  A patient! An elder from another country who birthed all seven of her children alone, not another living soul with her.

 I was able to tell her today the good news that her mammogram and first-ever pap were clear.  This didn't make her dance in joy.  Writing her name on the sign-in sheet did.

Monday, November 23, 2015


I just told some church friends at a gathering at our house Tuesday night that I think the term 'family' is thrown around too much these days.  I've been in enough churches to know that just a shared faith doesn't put one, practically, on the level of 'family'.  Family means you get to ask for stuff without fear of it being assumed that repayment may never happen.  A friend of mine I've known since we were 13 always says "call it even" when we're out and paying for each other's stuff.  Who cares.  It's family.

This weekend though we experienced it in some ways.  Some friends with a new baby at home had a stir-crazy two-year-old who came home with me in the afternoon into the evening.  My brother and sister-in-law were at the house too.  I warmed up soup, made a spinach salad while the two-year-old became a part of the family for the evening.  Having her with us was effortless.

The next morning I came downstairs at 8:15 to find my daughter staring out the front window, waiting for her babysitting gig to show up.  She'd been up since 6am in excitement.  The dad brought the baby in still in her carseat, and we moved her to my daughter's room where she peacefully looked around without a sound.  My brother-in-law came upstairs and eventually held the baby while I made pancakes and eggs as the house stirred awake.  I made her a bottle, which my daughter fed to her.  The two of them fell asleep on the couch amidst the noise.  Having the baby with us was effortless.

In time, our nephew showed up eating the leftovers of breakfast, and he held the baby for a while too.

Saturday night, our 'bonus kid', the girl down the street came over while my husband was performing in a play.  They danced in my office with youtube videos.  We made a cranberry Christmas cake even though it's not even Thanksgiving.  We watched a terrible kid movie in the basement while the girls brushed and braided my hair.  We watched movie trailers until 10:30 when my kids walked her home.

Sunday morning I woke up to a text from a friend who is going to the east coast for Thanksgiving and wanted me to dogsit for eight days.  Can't do it because of our cats, but I was still happy that she asked.  These are the sorts of questions that familiy asks.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Kid dreams

One kid didn't want to get out of bed, not unusual, but this morning because he'd been dreaming that he'd won all of Disneyland in a raffle.  He was desperate to get back to sleep.

The other kid told me that she'd dreamed that I'd had a baby, and she was so upset she'd run away.  Good thing close friends of ours are having babies right now, not me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A night in November

The years of beauty, noise, warmth, trial here and there, running to and fro, the years to look back on with wonder that we lived such a thing.

The warmth of this kitchen with its green granite counters I slice Costco pizza on for our church small group who comes over on Tuesday nights.  The neighbor girl, three or four houses down, our "bonus kid" stays for any and all meals, and we are happy to have her. Her voice is raspy and funny and her laughter infectious and true.  She is our kids' bonus sibling.  Before they walked her home at 9:45, they were challenging each other to math problems like nerds.  They had also been giving each other piggy-back rides, falling off for comedy-sake and laughing and farting all at once and then the laughter got louder and so my husband retreated downstairs to his office and came back up half and hour later asking how I stand the noise.

Because in the midst of the noise, I wrote the therapist our update on how the family functioned this week, and I somehow was able to wrap my arms around the noise while also shooing it into the other room.  That's when the math problems started.

And the kitten, almost now fully grown, and the dog have become best friends, chasing and biting each other's faces with wrestles and teases, and we sometimes sit around and just watch them for long delicious minutes.

The kitten now is alone in her person's bed, her person having gone to sleep in the attic with her brother in the carpeted play-area made for them by their dad and their pappy.  They don't use it as often as we wish but tonight on a rainy and cold night, the night before a day off from school, they agree to sleep there, and I'm jealous for the noise the rain must make as they drift to sleep.

These years, these days.

A riddle for my daughter as she left for bed: "How many months have 28 days?"

The answer, she figured out all on her own.

12 months.  All have 28 and some have even more than that.  These months have more than that. These years have more.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rahel Holds Tight

I pulled out of the back gravel parking lot at work in our very old VW bug at 11:45 to pick up the meal for lunch.  The day was unusually warm, so I let the windows down and turned on the radio.  As I sat at a light on the bridge to get onto the 205 freeway heading south I realized that the song playing was the one my husband sang this summer while karoeking at our yearly block party.  He'd only heard it a few times but liked the words so went for it.

"Don't take your life for granted...Why don't you hold on tight to what you've been handed, cause you just don't know how long you will have it..."

He belted it out, screaming a lot it, making up for his unfamiliarity with volume.  My next-door-neighbor who was sitting next to me in the dark reached out and touched my arm with tears in her eyes and said something about how true those words were and don't I just love my husband?

Heading south on the 205 freeway, feeling every bump in our rickety old car, I realized that the next song playing was the one my son kareoked at the same block party.  He stood up without telling anyone but the DJ and sang like an angel, making half the party cry.

So let the light guide your way. Hold every memory as you go. And every road you take will always lead you home, home.

I arrived at Cartlandia on 82nd Ave having had a small cry in the car.  I carried 20 plastic containers of beef tibs, doro wot, misir wot, shiro, gomen, injera to my car, trying my best to arrange them so they wouldn't spill on my drive back.  Rahel, the cart owner, handed me the receipt and thanked me like always for thinking of her for these large orders.  This time though, she covered her eyes, tearing up herself.  In the past, she has told me that I "bless" her with these orders and calls me "honey" on the phone even though she's probably ten years younger than I am.

She said, "Life is hard. My parents are back home, sick, and I send everything I earn to them.  I'm here alone, just my husband with me."  She cried more.  I reached my arm as far into the cart through the high window as I could.  She took my hand and we held on for a moment.  I promised myself to always give her these large orders.  The money she makes from her cart business goes to her family back home in Ethiopia, and the elders I am paid to look after love her food.

How can we not talk about family when family's all that we got
Everything I went through, you were standing there by my side
I've been waking up tight day after day
Hope is taking its time to go my way
But I don't take my life for granted
I'm gonna hold on tight to what I've been handed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


The water from the shower running over my skinned knee hurt more than I thought it would.  It's good as a parent to remember what a skinned knee feels like.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Winter gear T-rex

A moment around dinner where we are scattered but I sit at the dining room table with my son to slow down for a few moments. Our nephew who is currently a high school exchange student in Spain has a friend in his hometown in Southern Oregon who committed suicide a few days ago.  Our nephew's mother, my sister-in-law, wrote some thoughts down about what it's been like to live in the wake of this tragedy.  It was beautifully said.  Hold each other close and show kindness everywhere you go.

So my act of kindness was in my own house, with my own child, the one who has been experiencing bouts since school started of pushing our buttons making it difficult to like him.  In spurts, like a wind-up toy that eventually powers back down.  Or something.

I let my son direct the conversation.  It was focused around his questions about scientific discoveries and the workings of the human body.  Questions like how do we think something and then our body acts it out?  Have scientists figured out how to make things invisible yet?  Are there parts of the world that haven't been discovered?  What living things have gone from the surface of the ocean to the bottom and back still alive?

It's good that humans weren't around during the time of the dinosaurs.  Questions about how the dinosaurs went extinct.  The asteroid that hit the planet, sending it into an ice age.  Mom, was it snow or ice?

Well, if skis has been invented, the dinosaurs probably could have survived.

Cue to many wonderful mental images.  So many.  Dinosaurs in winter gear.

My husband and daughter still weren't back, and I felt in my body a slowing down, what had started out as a purposeful engagment with my child within fifteen minutes was altering my natural weekday go-go-go-do-clean-hurry-so-at-9pm-i-can-sit-quietly-in-clean-order routine.

We pulled the bikes out of the garage.  My tires were flat, so while my son ran to get the pump, I tried to ride my bike anyway.  Upon attempting to turn around in the intersection by ouur house, the tires gave out and  my bike toppled over with me on it, skinning my left knee.  Checked to make sure no one saw.  Got back up.  My son happily pumped air into the tires while I talked to a passing neighbor about how my kids already have National Geographic magazine for kids and which neighbor kid might like it instead.

My husband and daughter got home, but I promised the ride so we went until the street lights were coming on.  My son was shoeless and helmet-less.  He trailed behind me close to the curb like I asked him to.  He told me how much he likes riding bikes.  His bike is too big, so to stop, he has to lean into grassy spots.  There wasn't much stopping like usual to pet friendly cats or look at Halloween decorations.

I found a low wall and high curb and stopped.  He sat on my lap, a few blocks from our house.  I apologized for my frequent impatience.  He always says it's okay, but it's not.  I told him that I don't want his childhood memories of me to be of a yelling, impatient mother.  He said, "okay" and I said, "Well, it's not that easy."  I have my own memories, not all the time, but in certain busy and dutiful years, of a mother often walking from room to room doing tasks, rarely sitting down with me for open-ended time.  I trailed behind, talking at her back.  A perfectly clean house is not worth giving my kids that memory of me.  I want their memories to be of my face, and I know they won't remember the resulting disorder of our surroundings, a result of being present and in-the-moment with my kids.

Lofty goals probably, but at certain moments, my chest is filled with terror that something bad might happen to one of my kids, and I tell myself that today is what we have.  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

So many versions of life

This morning while at work, I got this email from one of our neighbors:

Your wonderful children came over this morning to help with yard work -  yea- they are so fine!
But I realized as I'm back inside that my trousers are completely ripped over my butt so my fanny was probably  on display as I was working outside.  
AND  I showed them my stitches (there is a big bandage over my eye)
 as they were leaving (with fruit leather w/out your ok) they read my note to self: "Don't drink beer when carrying lawn chairs".  (Only two beers and after the Hornsby concert A,A&I were walking to the MAX and I turned around and then it was down and call 911).
Anyway,  feel too much info (esp w/the clothing  failure) so call if any questions.  
It made me laugh.
A couple hours later, all my clients had left, and I was cleaning the tables where we'd eaten lunch.  A coworker of mine (in a different program) was on the phone to Addis Ababa, loudly speaking Somali, her native language.  She hung up and put her head down on the table.  I asked if she was okay, and she told me the news that last Wednesday her 11-year-old brother died.  He was playing soccer, got a stomach-ache, and after bouts of diarrhea, they took him to the emergency room where he died.  Now her stepfather is very sick, and she's trying to talk to her family.
I expressed how sorry I am about this, and she thanked me with a shrug, saying, "This is life." 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


We're halfway through summer vacation, and I love this time of year.  I hate being hot, but I hate even more waking up early to get children to school by 8am.  It's been a slow sort of summer so far, excluding bursts of guests and family reunions.  At this exact moment, everyone in the house is reading a book as ham sandwiches melt in the oven.  The kitten naps on the table.  The dog is asleep on my husband's shoes, his favorite bed.

We have been installed a sort of routine of waking up whenever we wake up, the kids doing two pages of workbooks so their brains don't atrophy, then whatever comes our way.  The end.  Lots of trips to the library.  Both kids have earned their summer reading t-shirts.

This morning I was getting ready to head out and enjoying a quiet moment by myself upstairs to pee. As usually happens when I dare to pee upstairs, my son comes tromping up the stairs calling my name.  It exasperates me usually that his questions can't wait until I'm out of the bathroom, so I was bracing myself to fuss at him for not giving me peace.

I came out, opened my bedroom door, and saw him standing there quietly.  I bit my tongue, holding back the lecture I was preparing in my head about leaving me alone when I'm in the bathroom.  I'm glad I did because in that moment of silence, he stepped towards me, rested his head on my belly, stuck his thumb in his mouth, put his other arm around my middle and said quietly, "Mama."

Be still my heart.  I love being mama.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Missing the Ice Cream Truck

We have a family friend with a pretty dramatic life story. We had dinner with his family last night, and while driving quickly to get my daughter home for her hair braiding appointment, my son asked from the back seat, "Mom, why does God make bad things happen?"
For the last however-long amount of months, I've been in the weirdest spiritual space I've experienced in my life. I wasn't sure how to answer him and could have gone many different directions.  Partly out of respect for their dad (whose faith is stronger than mine right now) and partly because it was just more comfortable to think in the way I am familiar with, I answered him with something about God not making things happen but that bad things happen due to the selfish choices that humans make on a regular basis.  If humans took other people into consideration, fewer bad things would happen.  Simplistic, I know, but it was what came to my mind.
He answered, "Well, God shouldn't let us make our own choices because we make really dumb choices."
I then brought up the belief that a lot of people have that God can take any bad situation and bring good out of it, not that he wanted the bad thing to happen but that eventually, all the bad things will have a good thing to result.  Or something.
"Okay, Mom, like if a kid misses the ice cream truck, he can eventually get a lollipop."
"Yes, like that I guess."
We got home and an adorable 20-something year old friend came by to braid.  We sat on the front porch and while she parted and combed and deep conditioned, she talked about 'sharts' which she edited to 'darts' (doo-doo fart) for the kids.  She told a personal story of a dart, before explaining what 'dookie-braids' are (one really fat cornrow in the shape of a turd) and kept calling our cat Bang Bang names like "Oscar" and "Paco" and "Taco" and "boom boom" because she couldn't remember his name.  She'd take breaks to dance and beatbox while my daughter would do her own version of 'getting the wiggles out' by spastically dancing and flopping her head around.
While this was going on, my son was experiencing his daily burst of energy post-sundown.  Two neighbor kids were over, and the belly laughter was filling the porch and eventually the house once it got too chilly.  Today was their last full day of school, and they were up until 11pm.  Tomorrow, friends from the South are coming to visit, and life is feeling really full. 
It's good, it's all good. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

It's Hot

It's the first real hot day of the year.  I get my kids from school and drive to the used bookstore's annual half-off book-sale.  We're all hot.

As we are getting out of the car, my daughter says, "Mom, you know what's the worst feeling?"

I answer, "Yes, I know! A sweaty crotch."

This was not at all what she expected me to say but was exactly what was in her mind, and we looked at each other in amazement, our bond growing just that much deeper.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Real parenting moments

Real moments.

A few days ago, I got three photos of my son and his oldest friend, both of whom have lost a front tooth.  They're both looking very cute.  Of the three, one was a keeper.  I needed to delete a couple hundred photos from the camera's SD card, so I asked my daughter if she wanted to do it.  My fancy camera is usually pretty off-limits, so she liked the responsibility of this job.  I showed her exactly what to do, and she went for it.  I noticed while cooking dinner that she had figured out how to speed through photos, but I just got her back on track with the boring job of deleting.  

She said to me, "Mom, I only deleted one of the photos you wanted."  I panicked.  These boys are notoriously difficult to get photos of, usually running away or being purposely hard-to-get.  The one 'keeper' photo I was looking forward to showing the mom and maybe printing for us.  I checked the camera.  Of course, of the three, the good one got deleted.  I felt deflated and in that moment didn't hide my disappointment or sadness that the photo got deleted.  My daughter walked to her room and buried her head in her pillow.

I came to her room and explained that, had it been an honest mistake, I wouldn't be so upset.  The truth though was that she'd been 'dinking' around with my camera and photos, doing what she wanted rather than what I asked her to do.  I hadn't made her do the job.  I asked her if she wanted, and she did.  We talked about responsibility and the importance of doing what a person asks, not just what you want to do or what you feel is best, especially especially especially if it's your first time doing a job.  

I still feel sad about the lost photo but told her that I'll get over it, that another photo can be taken.  Hopefully next time, she'll remember to follow directions.

Our son was eating dinner by himself while reading a library book, a graphic novel.  I asked him to put the book away while eating.  A few minutes later, I look over at him and see that he's still reading.  I calmly took what was left of his dinner (not much) and said that dinner was over because he'd not followed my directions to put the book away.  Cue the crying and moans of "but I'm huuuuungry!"

Drama ensued.  It was his night to do dishes, so there was banging and crying and then on top of it all, his sister started eating the coveted bacon-cheddar popcorn, and it was all too much.  In his mind, we were all doing it on purpose to torment him. I warned him to cut out the drama.  He didn't, so I told him to go on to bed, 45 minutes earlier than normal.  The tears and bemoaning and whining and general pissiness stopped on a dime.  He stood straight, went back to the dishes, smiled and said, "It's okay, Mama, I'm okay."

These fits really are so often a choice.  Sure, he feels bummed, but acting pissy is a choice.  So in that moment, I had to decide.  I went ahead and sent him to bed.  I'd had enough.  As he walked away, he let out "a primal scream" as my husband referred to it.  I followed a few minutes later up to his room and we talked about decisions we make having consequences, that his decision to keep reading when I asked him not to was a choice he made and that all the angst following was no one's fault but his own.  No one was set out to torment him.  His sister eating popcorn had nothing to do with him.  She just wanted popcorn, and I said she could have it.  He was not part of this equation.

Kids are such narcisists sometimes.  So often really.

He got into his bed, and I said, "I still love you, even when I'm upset with you, you know." I asked if he wanted night hugs or not.  He did.  He leaned on me for a long while and asked "Are you taking us to school in the morning?" Most days that's his dad's job, so there's a certain allure of the unexpected when I do it.  He loves these mornings.  

We all got over the drama of tonight thank goodness.  Some days parenting is harder than others, but I consider it a win if I still get night time hugs.

Monday, March 16, 2015


My transcription of an interview on Fresh Air with Maurice Sendak, shortly before his death.

I'm not unhappy about becoming old.  I'm not unhappy about what must be.  It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me.  I don't believe in an afterlife, but I still fully expect to see my brother again.  It's like a dream life.  … There is something I'm finding out as I'm aging, that I'm in love with the world.  As I look out my window now as we speak together out my window, and I see my trees, my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old … I can see how beautiful they are, I can take time to see how beautiful they are.

 It is a blessing to get old.  It is a blessing to find the time, to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music.  You know, I don't think I'm rationalizing anything, I really don't.  This is all inevitable since I have no control over it and nothing but praise now, really, for my life.  I'lm happy. I cry a lot because I miss people.  I cry a lot because they die, and I can't stop them.  They leave me, and I love them more. 

But I have my young people here, four of them, who are studying and they look at me as somebody who knows everything.  Poor kids.  Oh God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready. 

Almost certainly I'll go before you go so I won't have to miss you.  And I don't know whether I'll do another book or not, I might. It doesn't matter.  I'm a happy old man but I will cry my way, all the way, to the grave.  I wish you all good things.

 Life your life, live your life, live your life. 

--Maurice Sendak

Dead Fly

My kid got sent to his room 20 minutes before bedtime for spitting at his sister.  They'd been fighting about how to feed the pets.  He wrote her a note of "sincere apology" but still couldn't come down.  My daughter and I sat on the couch looking at pinterest and listening to the Rich Mullins station on my new ipad.

I found him at the top of the stairs hunkered down over something small.  It was a wounded fly.  He was poking at it with a small scrap of paper, managing to pick it up and watch it walk around.  I encouraged him to flush it down the toilet, which he started to do but then changed his mind about. 

When I told him good night in his bed, I asked what he did with the fly.  He said, "I made a paper airplane for it and flew it out my window."  He seemed genuinely sad, and it was hard to convince him about the impracticalities of keeping a fly as a pet.

Five minutes ago, 45 minutes past his bedtime, he appeared at my side, thumb in mouth, very sad.  I asked if something was wrong.

"The fly.  He was just flying around and then banged into the wall and crashed down."

"Well, he probably wasn't a very smart fly then."

These lamentations for a wounded fly are coming from the same kid who put a clothes pin on his dog's ear tonight "because I wanted to see if it hurt animals the way it hurts people."

Kids are illogical in so many ways, and if I were a better mother, I might figure out what the sadness about the fly means.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Dreamer

Parenting lesson: we never want to punish our kids for being what they are.  Our son is a dreamer.  He was born with a vivid imagination that has his drawn to fairy tales, stories, movies, and now books.  The other night he was laying beside me in bed as I read City of Thieves.  He told me that he was reading along with me, but because I wasn't sure, I asked him to describe what he'd read.  He said, "Some people thought a German soldier was dead but he actually wasn't."

I was so flabbergasted that I started laughing.  He was exactly right.  Thankfully, he'd missed the part about how the Russian partisans then shot the soldier in the head, leaving his brain matter to seep out into the snow.  

When he was grounded a couple of weeks ago from all screens, I checked out from the library some audiobooks for him to fill the void.  We'd listened to a few on our summer road trip to Los Angeles, so I got a few in the series he liked most, The Sisters Grimm.  He would now, if we let him, be huddled around the CD player for days on end listening to stories being read to him.  

Last night all three of us were listening to chapters of The Wolf Princess, which he'd said he didn't like (only because it was chosen by his sister).  Despite himself, he was so into the story that when I turned it off and told him to brush his teeth for bed, he grudgingly stomped to the bathroom.  Instead of doing his chore, he just stood there though.  After a couple minutes, he emerged from the bathroom beginning to tell me something.  I held up my hand to cut him off, asking if he'd brushed his teeth.  He reacted in anger, shouting, "You didn't even let me finish!"  I sent him away, holding in my own anger at having my kid yell at me right after not doing what I'd asked him to do.  I took deep breaths and calmed down.

A few minutes later when I went to tell him goodnight, I told him, "I'm going to ask you a question, and you have no choice but to answer it, no matter what."  I then asked what he'd come into the room to tell me while he was supposed to be getting ready for bed.  It took a few rounds of prodding him, holding my ground, demanding an answer before he said that he wanted to share with me a thought he'd had about The Wolf Princess.  That was it.  Our dreaming boy's imagination was full to bursting with this Russian story, and it was physically impossible for him to complete the mundane task of brushing his teeth.

This morning an adoption-friend posted on fb about what a dreamer her daughter is.  She described a morning time scenario that could have been an exact description of our own house in the morning.  Her daughter had the task of putting on her coat and walking to the car.  That was it.  As an experiment, my friend and her son went to the car to wait for her.  Eight minutes later, she had not emerged from the house, and my friend found her along in her room playing quietly.  She had completely forgotten that her mom and brother were waiting for her in the car.  It suddenly struck me: this is my own son.  He does not mean to be disobedient or selfish by making others wait for him.  This is how he is wired, and it's not fair for us to get exasperated with this.

In the ensuing conversation in the comments section of this post one of my favorite mothers on the planet shared this encouraging thought: 

They will change the world. They'll come up with their brilliant ideas that the Bridgets and Teshes don't but will then go off into another daydream and the Bridgets and Teshes will then get it done. I have the dreamer and the doer. You know that Quinn and Ellia were created in that same beautiful cloud. But, oh yes...getting them moving. The other day in gym class Quinn's teacher called on him during a lecture. "Quinn, do you have a question?" Quinn said no. The teacher then replied "Then why do you have your arm up?" That's when Quinn noticed his arm was raised in the air. "Well, Ms. Mitchell, I guess I'm having one of those weeks." To which I thought to myself, Quinnie you've had one of those weeks for your entire life.

I need to remind myself to make sure I am listening to my dreaming son.  He might change the world.

The Dreamer and The Doer, huddled together around the CD player listening to The Sisters Grimm


My kids came home with small packages of Lorna Doone cookies last week, a Valentine's Day procurement from their parties at school.  Neither kid liked them, disappointment by their blandness.

I always felt the same way when I was their age.  I just opened up one of their discarded packages and ate half of one.  A memory came back to me.  When I was a teenager, my grandmother used to drive her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, every week to Kroger so she could buy her groceries.  I sometimes went with them and every time would end up standing in the cookie aisle with Granny Ford for long minutes as she decided what to choose.  Iced oatmeal.  Fig Newtons.  Oreos.  Soft-batch chocolate chip.  She'd stand there beside her buggy with her arms crossed, the same stance she took to watch her stories in the afternoons, as if she knew she was 'above' watching soaps and was just on her way out of the room, not really paying too close attention while actually paying such close attention that she could recount dialogue later on the phone with her granddaughters who lived in Birmingham.

She always, every single time, chose the Lorna Doones.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The old blog and Louis C.K.

Tonight I told my kids about my old blog, the one I kept from 2007-2011 chronicling their adoptions into our family.  It was a big moment for me, though probably not for them.  It was a pretty big part of my life for those years, enabling me to process my many emotions regarding adoption along with bringing into my life some of my now closest friends.

I decided to read an entry or two to them which ended up being five or six.  I was appreciative of the hours I spent writing, something my daughter said on her own.  She thanked me for writing those memories down.  One of the posts I read to them was about loss, specifically the emotions surrounding the death of a pet.  I read aloud to them the quote from Louis C.K. about how what we're really doing when we bring a puppy home to the family is saying 'hey look at this cute ball of future sorrow I brought home!'  Both my kids cracked up in genuine laughter, my daughter even having to stop combing my hair in order to cover her whole face and shake in laughter.  It was a great moment.
A nice by-product of reading some posts aloud to them is that they had just been fighting with each other, and I was able to remind them through my old blog of the bond they have, the tender moments they have experienced with each other.  They do feel genuine love for each other, as evidenced in many ways including the way on weekends, they insist on sleeping in the same room, talking into the night as they slowly fall asleep.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Sick Elder

I am lucky enough to have a job that is perfect for this stage of my life.  In the five years I've been in this position, I have found myself in many unusual situations, including the one yesterday afternoon that entailed our new 'dorkmobile' being filled with six African elders going to visit their friend in a rehab center. 

The sick friend, a blue-eyed, white-haired Ethiopian nicknamed "Mandela" by the staff of my workplace suffered a stroke right before Christmas and has been recovering in the hospital until Monday.  He has two adult children in town along with numerous grandchildren but lives by himself in a comfortable low-income senior apartment.  He was found laying down on his couch, alone in his apartment, having had a very bad stroke that left him unresponsive until just a few days ago.  'Mandela' has many friends here and has always stayed very active, taking the bus on his own every day to activities with his friends and to drink coffee every day at the local shopping mall.  In 2011 when I went to Addis Ababa to meet the five-year-old who is now my daughter, I had the chance to spend a rainy afternoon drinking coffee with his daughters at the home he built in the 60's.  At the time, his wife was dying, unresponsive in the main bedroom.  I brought medical supplies for her, things like adult diapers and ensure.  She died a few months later.

It was alarming of course to then see her husband yesterday in a very similar circumstance.  The seven of us walked in to the room where the TV was set to the 'easy listening' station which I'm certain he'd prefer to have been switched off.  He was leaned back on the pillow, head up, but silent, right side of his face drooping.  He looked at all of us.  The tall Eritrean friend stood at the foot of his bed and shook his head back and forth, clicking his tongue in pity.  It struck me how Americans would hide their feelings in front of the afflicted.  The married Ethiopian couple shook their heads, put their hands together, stood quietly at the foot of his bed.  The Liberian woman said her "ay-meh"s and sat down in the chair.  The gruff Somali man hung back, silent. I spoke to him in my upbeat American way. 

We all wanted to do something but there was nothing to do but stand and stare at each other.  The Oromo man, D, the one constantly teased among the group for being rural, simple, childlike is the one who shuffled forward towards our sick friend.  He stooped low, came near, spoke in a soft voice so quiet I could not hear.  He adjusted the pillows on the bed.  He held the hand of his friend.  He moved his blankets around.  Among us all, he was the most natural, and after a half-hour visit, he was the one who left last, again coming closest, leaning down towards his friend in a gentleness that made my heart want to burst.

As I drove around the city that day listening to the news of terrorist attacks in Paris, I stopped at various bus stops to drop off my passengers.  My car had in it the nations of Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. There is still so much tenderness in this world.