Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Ted's commercial agents gave Abe these shorts and shirt last year when he first got home. At the time, I thought they looked huge, like they'd never ever possibly fit him.

We're now letting out the adjustable strap on the shorts and the shirt is nearly too small. Kids get bigger. They grow out of clothes. They start talking, telling you that they're afraid of the dark, don't like bananas, and that dad looks like Abe Lincoln and mom, Beyonce (the boy has an imagination, what can I say?). They try to gross you out by leaning down on the potty to smell their freshly laid poop. They are little people. Not babies. No, not babies, "not today" as Abe says.

Another Gladney mom sent me a photo today of wee tiny itty-bitty sleeping baby Abe that she just found. I had to really study it to see if it was really him. The ears gave him away, that and the slope of his eyebrow. He was so tiny, so breakable. Now, he seems indestructible.

I'm not saying anything new. It's just weird to watch your kid go from baby to...well, to kid.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alone in the World

I talked today with one of the students in the ESL class of senior immigrant/refugee I teach every week. He is from Burundi. He is 66 years old. He has no living relatives, not here and not back home. No parents, no children, no wife, no brothers, no sisters, no aunts or uncles, no cousins. No one. He lives here in an apartment by himself. He speaks virtually no English. He arrives to class alone, sits alone, leaves alone.

A young high school student from Congo who volunteers with us translated for our conversation. I couldn't help shaking my head. The Congolese student did the same. The two of them chatted for a while after I had to go do something else. I was glad they were talking.

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be completely alone in the world? Not just to be separated from your family by oceans and continents, but to have no living relatives anywhere? Consider it. Really take a moment and try to imagine what this might be like. When I do, a feeling of panic sets in, a pressure in my chest.

This Burundian man comes every week and participates in class. He always smiles at me. I saw him two weeks ago at the main office of the nonprofit where I volunteer. His face lit up when I waved at him. Who does he eat with at night? Who does he talk to on the bus? How does he spend his days? What does he dream about when he sleeps? What happened to him to get him to Oregon? What was going through his mind as he sat during his long journey here? What does he think of Americans? What was his favorite game to play as a small boy? Where did his family go? Can I adopt him too?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Maly Zajko

When I left Slovakia after a year teaching in 1999, I felt like my heart was getting ripped out. I cried for days, maybe even weeks. One of my dearest students, one of a trio in my most favorite class, told me that she searched all around her room to find the sweetest thing she could find to give me as a going-away present. What she decided upon was a small pale pink bunny that had been hers as a little girl. I wept when I read her note that came with the gift. I have treasured this small bunny for ten years now.

Abe has a shelf high up in his room above a window that holds toys that he's not quite old enough for yet but that look nice being displayed. His Obama action-figure is up there. So is the pale pink bunny, the sweetest thing in a Slovak girl's room. Tonight, when I put Abe in his bed, despite the mound of stuffed animals at the foot of his bed, he pointed up and said, "I want that bunny." I'll be honest: I didn't want to give it to him. I tried to give him another bunny, but he shook his head, even saying, "I don't like that bunny."

So I thought about it for a second and pulled it off the shelf. I handed it to him, and this is what he did: he very gently placed the Slovak bunny right next him, tenderly pulled the covers up right beneath the bunny's chin and said, "Night night, bunny." This is the first time he's ever done this. Every other stuffed animal he's been content to let sleep at the foot of his bed in a big pile.

I shouldn't be surprised. It was the sweetest thing in his room.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kids' Books We Dig Right Now

I used to volunteer for a nonprofit called SMART (Start Making a Reader Today), which is based on the simple yet brilliant concept that reading aloud to a child will encourage him to become a reader himself. I loved the couple of years I volunteered for lots of reasons, one of which was my love for children's literature. I definitely was the kind of volunteer who told my kid, "You pick one and I pick one." I loved going through the old classics and finding out what was new. And the illustrations! Oh the lovely illustrations...

Having a kid of our own at home, I've been excited to buy our books for Abe's library (almost all from Goodwill, what amazing things can be found there!) and to really hang out in the children's section at the library. Here are a few books that we've been digging these days:

1. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. Our friend Julie sent us this one a few weeks ago since she knew about my love for the movie Man on Wire about Philippe Petite, the artist/acrobat who strung a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center and did a high-wire dance early one morning in 1974. It's a beautiful movie and a beautiful book. There is a page in here so beautifully illustrated that I want to copy it and frame it for Abe's room. Beautiful. How many times can I say beautiful?

2. I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia. Thanks to this book, Abe doesn't cry at all when I comb out his hair every night. Not. At. All. Thank you, Natasha Anastasia.

3. Don't Let Go! by Jeanne Willis. I like when books "deal with" an issue by making the issue not an issue. In this book, the girl's parents are divorced but I didn't even notice this the first time I read it. This is, I think, one of the best ways for a child to realize that a less-than-ideal life circumstance they're experiencing does not make them abnormal. (It's sort of like this boardbook we have about a dad and his kids, and one of the kids just happens to have dark skin. No explanation is given, and it's not even that great of a book. I just love that there's a book with this white dad and a black son, doing nothing significant besides flying kites and cooking hot dogs.) The first time I read this book to Abe, I could hardly make it through. The next day, Ted asked me, "So did you have trouble getting through the end of Don't Let Go!?"

Um. Yeah. Did you?

Okay, so I teared up a little too.

Abe and I read it again this afternoon, and I just went on and let loose. It's a good one, I'm telling you.
I love this book.

4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It's a classic for a reason. I am ashamed to admit that I had never read it from start to finish. Then I saw the trailer for the Spike Jonze movie being made right now, and I made a point of getting it from the library. Abe adores this book. We read it three times in a row today. We get to the end, and he immediately says, "read it again." I have no idea why, but the trailer makes me tear up, every single time. Yes, I'm a crier, but still.

"I'm gonna eat you up, I love you so."

Maybe it's that line. Maybe it's just all that beauty. Maybe I miss being a kid myself. Maybe that's why I love kids' books so much that I would eat them up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Toddler Bed

Last week, during the awful heat-wave, we ended up for a few hours one day at Ik*a just to experience air conditioning. We walked out with a toddler bed. We'd taken a leisurely tour through the showroom and all three of us ended up loving the 570 sq.ft. NYC-style apartment, complete with a room for a toddler. It got us (well, me) dreaming again of living there one day--not the store, but NYC.

Once it cooled down and we could sleep upstairs again, Ted set up Abe's bed in his room. This is Abe upon first waking up in his new bed after the first night:

Pretty cute, right? For the first few days, we had no problems. Abe jumped right in for every nap and every night-time. He never got out. Like most big transitions for Abe, it was easy-breezy.

All that ended last night.

Since getting his new bed, he's only wanted Daddy to put him down at night. I'm guessing it's a guy thing? I brush his teeth, put on pjs, etc, but Ted is the one that he wants to take him upstairs. So last night, the guys went upstairs and I turned on the second half of the netflix "watch instantly" movie that I'd been watching in stages, Ten Things I Hate About You (this summer, for whatever the reason--maybe the heat, I've had mental energy for teen comedies and not much else). After about twenty minutes, I heard the "thump, thump, thump" of Abe running around upstairs. I looked up and there he was, standing at the top of the stairs, peering down at me between the bars of his, I mean, the baby-gate that we have in his doorway, smiling hugely.

I tried to sound really strict, telling him to go back to bed. I then walked around the corner where Ted and I stood there whispering about how adorable he looked standing there looking down at us, how hard it is to be mad at him. Five minutes later, I hear the little jingle of him pushing the buttons of his Peter Rabbit book, you know, the kind with sound effects. Good thing he hasn't learned outright sneakiness yet because Ted then headed upstairs to consistently and silently put him back into bed every time he got out, Jo "Supernanny" Frost style.

Eventually, he fell asleep. Lately, before I go to bed myself, I've been stepping over the gate into his room and watching him sleep. He's remarkably beautiful in those moments. Most sleeping kids are. But this is my sleeping kid, and I've been sleeping really soundly lately after these little glimpses of him all secure in his big-boy bed, behind the gate, caged in nice and tight.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Let Us Have Faith

Let Us Have Faith

Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature, nor do the children
of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run
than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

To keep our faces toward change and behave

like free spirits
In the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.