Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Day in Late January

The sun came out on Friday. When we first got up, it was so cold we saw frost on our neighbor's roof and on the grass. We bundled ourselves for the trips to school and work.

The doors were all locked at work. A meeting. New carpet being installed in the building, so I made my way in through a back door where workers were wreaking havoc on the our offices. The seniors were arriving, so I let them into the reception area and in out of the cold, but we had nowhere to go. The room I was told I could have was in complete disarray. Made my way through the chaos and to my desk, turned on the computer, sat for a minute to figure out what to do.

Across the street is a donut shop. The sign claims them to be heavenly. Together, we picked up our lunch (delivered every Friday morning) and crossed the busy street. Hot, weak, diner coffee was poured for us, along with a couple of Lipton teas. No "buna-shai" here; we're in America, y'all. Our seniors unbundle themselves from their winter gear. We find seats. I deliver the drinks, the plastic tray of a couple dozen donut holes (my favorite as a pudgy Mississippi young-un). The sun. Oh, the sun. Blue sky outside on this dingy, busy corner in East Portland.

A senior points out that across the street our newest member is looking for us. I grab my coat but leave my purse. I jaywalk over there to collect her and bring her to us. She's Liberian, a recent widow. Knee-replacement surgery and lost 100 pounds. Arrives late every Friday due to her 9am zumba class at her community center. She takes my arm and we jaywalk back to the donut shop. I order more coffee, one for her and finally one for me. More donut holes. Everyone is talking. The sun is still shining. I pull out my new phone and start snapping some pictures of the lovelies I'm spending my Friday morning with. The old lady from Shashamene puts her arm around my head and kisses my face. She says she's my mother, me her daughter. She kisses me again. Her friend sitting across from us wants me to take his photo, so to get ready, he puts on his sunglasses and pulls out a pen from his jacket. He leans back, chin raised, holds the pen as if he's about to sign new legislation assuring equal rights for all refugees and assylum seekers in the world. I snap the photo. We look at it, and he laughs.

Our Eritrean elder arrives at his usual 11am time, having successfully found us but wondering what the hell we're doing in the donut shop. Another coffee. He eats the last powdered sugar donut holes, and we all leave together to the main office for lunch in the echoey gym. Our new Iranian ESL teacher arrives and teaches a lesson about family, food, traditions. It's a conversation. She does a good job. The strong sun is slanting in from the southern windows, and while the East Africans arrange seats for themselves in the shade, our Liberian elder places her chair away from everyone else, directly in the warmest spot available, the winter sun blazing down on her.

She comes with me to run my final work errands. She comes with me to my house where I get tea, apples, cheese sticks, and our son. On the way, she told me all about her husband, her kids. We talk adoption and church. I take her to her house, which is close to our daughter's school. She invites us in, and having some time to kill, we go inside and meet her two dogs, one of whom claims my lap as hers. I admire the photos of President Obama, the Jackson Five, and her other loved ones on her walls.

Abe and I have twenty more minutes before Beti's school is out, so we go to a hipster-central coffeehouse down the street, a place known for their pies. We sit at the counter together, and I think about that line from Twin Peaks, "This is where pies go when they die." It must be true. This cherry pie with whipped cream was that good. Abe and I race up the street in the sunshine to the car.

School lets out. Abe gives Beti her cheese stick. Parents talk. Gaggles of kids run in packs. The sun makes the time pass quickly. Before we know it, it's been an hour and a half, and some of us hear talk about an indoor soccer game being organized. In spite of the sun, our feet are getting cold, so the remaining kids on the playground and their parents go inside to the gym where we end up staying for another hour and a half. I sit against the wall listening to veteran parents discussing who's who among the staff, teachers, who you want your kid to get, who's retiring, all really interesting stuff. The organizers of the game let our little four-year-old play his strategy of taking frequent breaks from shuffling around the floor with his hands in his pockets. Our big-kid is so good and competitive that everyone swears she must have played before.

As we're getting ready to finally go home, Beti says she wants to go tell her teacher goodbye. I explain that I'm sure she's not there anymore because what teacher would be still at the school at 6pm on a Friday afternoon? Beti insists she's still there. To prove her wrong, I say, "Come on, let's walk down to her room, and I'll show you." Beti runs into the open door to tell her teacher goodbye, the type of teacher who is still in her room at 6pm on a Friday afternoon, organizing and planning for the next week. We chat for a while. She's close to retirement with her own kids all grown and out of her house, so she said she doesn't feel a big rush to get home and prepare dinner for kids anymore. She's the most "zen" teacher I've ever met. Earlier in the afternoon, one of those veteran parents described her as one of the two best teachers in the school. We're lucky and hoping our little guy gets her next year too.

As we walk out of the building with the family whose son is in Beti's class, it's completely dark and freezing cold again. We talk about how that corner needs a streetlight. We scramble quickly into our cars and turn on the heat. We mosy away, talking about where to get dinner. Take-out chain-store pizza and breadsticks await us. The kids are ecstatic. They drink flat 7-up with their pizza, excitedly blabbering about how "this drink has sugar in it!" Hey, it's Friday night.

A cold Friday night in January. The sun shone that day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Read This Book

"'Sometimes,' my five-year-old son said into my shoulder that night, 'life is so beautiful, you just have to cry'."

--from I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers by Tim Madigan. This book made me sob and want to be a better human being.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.

On October 31, 1998 in the High Tatra mountains of Slovakia, it started snowing. I looked outside the window of the little first room floor of the hotel I was staying in and saw it. I had seen snow before of course but as a person who grew up in Mississippi, it was rare. To be living in a country where it started so early in the year seemed so magical and exciting. I remember so clearly being filled with such joy that I picked up my new (used) cellphone and called my parents in the U.S., for the sole reason of telling them it was snowing. The short conversation cost an arm and a leg, but I didn't care. I felt an overwhelming urge to connect that current beautiful moment with the place I had left behind.

Last night Ted came in from teaching his class and said, "You've seen what it's like outside, right?" I hadn't. I had put the kids to bed early and was watching Mad Men on netflix. I knew it was supposed to snow but I didn't think it had started. I looked outside and saw our street covered in brand-new snow with more coming down. My favorite thing about snow is how it makes the night-time look so bright. We debated waking the kids up to show them and finally decided not to.

Finally though at 11pm when we were heading to bed ourselves, I decided that they needed to see this. The forecast was saying it would be melting by the morning, so I ran upstairs, Ted right behind me, and we woke Beti up. In her bright-eyed way, she sat straight up and nodded enthusiastically when we asked her if she wanted to go outside and see the snow. Her eyes were puffy and red, but she climbed straight out of bed, and I carried her downstairs. Ted and Abe followed behind me.

I grabbed a bathrobe I saw on the couch and put it over her head. Her legs were wrapped around my waist as we went out to the front porch. We walked down the porch steps and into the sidewalk. It was so bright out there! It was so beautiful. I felt the same elation I felt fourteen years ago in Tatranska Lomnica, Slovakia. I walked Beti over to a tree to show her how beautiful the branches look when they are covered in fresh snow. When she looked up, she got a face-full of snow, so I looked at her and sang, "Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes..." She smiled. She had huge flakes stuck to her huge eyelashes. She was intrigued by the way the snow stuck to my sweater and just hung there in clumps.

At this point, she was starting to shake, so I walked back inside. We put the kids back into bed, and they were instantly back asleep.

Just like the forecast said, it rained the rest of the night ruining that 11pm beauty. All day today, it's been slushy and wet and gray outside. I'm glad we woke them up. It was a moment captured. I'm not sure if they'll remember it, but I know I will.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And that is that.

This morning I was retouching Beti's hair before she left for school. She asked me, "Mom, can you tell Abe 'bye' for me when he wake up?"

She'd never asked this before. I said, "Um, okay?"

"Because I love him."

Half an hour later, he woke up, came downstairs, stood on the toilet to look out the bathroom window at the snow. I told him what his sister said.

He looked at me, was quiet for a beat, shrugged, put his thumb back in his mouth and matter-of-factly said, "Well, I love her too."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

These Days Are Numbered

The sun came out today in a brilliant sort of way. I didn't go to work. I have been at home all day with our youngest while our kindergartener is at school. A friend who has a one-year-old came over this morning and had tea. It got me thinking about what those days were like when Abe was that age. The days did seem long and sometimes monotonous, but boy were they sweet.

Abe's been asking me a lot lately, "Can we do something just you and me?" So I let him pick where we went. We took a walk in the sun to a grocery store about a mile away that has nice free samples. He sang the Star Wars theme the whole way there and back, pedaling along on his little bike. We crossed very carefully the busy street together to go to the tiny little shop where I get my favorite tea. We took our time.

One of my favorite friends here in Portland I met when she had only a three-year-old. We met when Abe was only a baby, and the two of us would hang out a lot with our two kids on the days her son didn't go to preschool. It was just the two kids. Two. Now in just three years, there's five. Our two oldest are both in elementary school. Another two are in the same preschool (on different days). There's also a nice squishy baby in the mix. I saw her earlier this week and got to thinking again about the passage of time.

As Abe and I were on our walk today I couldn't help feeling a little happy that I've had to cut back on the hours I work. The timing is good. This spring is the last time that we will have a little one at home, one who doesn't spend the bulk of his week at school. I want to savor these last few days of having a preschooler following me around the house asking for hot chocolate or to read a book or to snuggle with me while sucking his thumb. These last remnants of the baby will fly away with the falling leaves this September when he's off to kindergarten. Of course we'll celebrate this milestone, but there's some melancholy mixed in there too.

Here's to savoring some slow sunny days at home before they're all gone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where I've Been

just a little lost in my mind. Sorry for not posting and thanks for those who check in.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It is now a new year

“Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light
and of every moment of your life”

--Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass