Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quiet Girl with Flower

This afternoon I saw a small little girl my son's age standing in her front yard silently staring at the goings-on around her while holding a pink flower. I found her adorable and sweet. My own children were barreling up and down the sidewalk on toddler toys much too small for them, careening this way and that, blowing soap bubbles in faces and generally wreaking havoc on their surroundings.

I was overwhelmed in that moment by their chaos. I remarked to the mother of the quiet girl, "What is it like to have a child who stands quietly while holding a flower?"

She visibly cringed, then smiled, and said, "Sometimes it's not always so easy." She then explained that she unsuccessfully tries to encourage her sweet daughter to engage in the play around her, which apparently doesn't work.

I wanted to cry. The pain of pulling my foot out of my mouth was too great. I looked in the direction of the flower-holder and saw that she was still serenely smiling and looking through the bushes for another flower. My own children were wild bulls on small plastic trains released from their cages.

I apologized to the mother of this sweet girl for the dumb thing I said. I was once the little brown-haired girl silently holding a flower, the one most people thought was deaf/mute for years (ask my mother). I am now a tall brown-haired girl whose preference is still to stand on the sidelines holding a pretty, soft thing to anchor me in the middle of the swirl of extroverts. It's how we make sense of this world.

I walked to my car swallowing the lump in my throat for making another mother feel sad. I fed my son ice cream and corn dogs for dinner, then sat on the couch with him and read him long books of tales about giants and mermaids. He is not on the sidelines of life; neither is my daughter.

Among my many hopes for them in life is that they one day fall in love with and marry introverts, if for no other reason so they can understand their mother.

Sweet brown-haired mother of an introverted daughter: I am so sorry. As much as I am okay in this life, she will be also.

Monday, April 16, 2012


This is what we are living right now.

It's a jolly holiday with Mary

It was probably a combination of fear, excitement, language barrier and being over-stimulated that kept Beti from watching any of the dozens of choices she had for movies on those long flights home to Oregon from Addis Ababa. We'd try to get her set up with headphones and a movie, but she'd in less than ten minutes end up doing something to switch the language to Arabic or Spanish before starting to fiddle with the window and seatbelt and other passengers. It was exhausting for all of us, and we were not sure if this disinterest in watching videos was typical for her or not.

While we tend to restrict TV watching on school nights, we love watching movies on the weekends, so we were slightly relieved to get home and discover after a few weeks that Beti liked watching things like Sesame Street and Tsehai Loves Learning. After she started to comprehend more and more English, she'd sit and watch shows like Little Bear with Abe, and then after several months, she moved on to movies, her favorite of which became The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. She loves Julie Andrews and had her mind blown when we told her the same actor was both Maria and Mary.

Both of our kids are singers with Abe often humming the Imperial March from Star Wars or the theme from My Neighbor Totoro and Beti singing the same or snatches of songs like "all the single ladies, all the single ladies..." and "step in time, step in time, everybody step in time!" It's a quality with both of our kids we actively encourage.

The night before we went to Disneyland, we stayed overnight at the house of one of Ted's old bachelor friends who had hosted a dinner for us. He'd made a huge pot of spicy jambalaya, and with the friends there plus a rambunctious dog who stormed Abe resulting in his smashing his head into a corner (with a goose-egg that lasted a week), we had a very late night. People and dogs were asleep everywhere, and despite the late-night chaos, I woke up before 7am, giddy with excitement about surprising our kids with this trip.

What baffled both of us was that our kids never once asked why they were being woken up so early and shuffled into the car with no breakfast. They never asked where we were going. Not once. They never asked why we were sitting outside of a coffee shop after a 45 minute drive hurrying them through their breakfast. Finally they started noticing buses with characters they recognized on them, but they seemed to just be in 'road-trip mode', content to talk to each other in the back seat, not asking questions about what we were doing.

It was until we had parked our car in the huge Disney parking structure and gotten on the tram taking us to the front gates that they started to figure that something might be up. Here is what Beti noticed as we walked to the tram:

And then I love love love Beti's sweet reaction to figuring out where we are:

As we approached the turnstiles to enter the park, Beti grabbed me and started shouting, "Mom! Look! There's Mary Poppins!" I looked across the ticket taker and saw that she was right: there was a full band of chimney sweeps dancing around Mary Poppins, and the look on Beti's face was like nothing I'd ever seen.

We rushed in to the park, and the next moment was a giddy tear-fest for me. Beti got close to the action, saw Mary, became shy, so I shoved her forward into the eye line of one of her heroes. Mary Poppins took my daughter's hand and danced with her a few seconds. I was that maniacal mother with a camera and stupidly happy expression. It was just that, within the span of half an hour, Beti had gone from another day of sitting in the backseat on a road trip to dancing with her favorite movie character in the "happiest place on earth." I choked up and lost my shit. It was exactly the same feeling we'd had almost two years ago of taking Abe to see that high school production of Peter Pan. There is no feeling in the world that compares with watching your child's face as she experiences something completely magical.

Despite having a long wait for the Peter Pan ride and my slight claustrophobic panic waiting to get off the submarine ride (avoid this ride if at all possible), the 13 hours we spent at Disneyland were completely magical. Truly, it felt like 13 hours of the happiness, joy, euphoria. And yes, we stayed until 10:30 at night, our kids still going pretty strong. Neither was afraid of anything; both rode all the 'scary' rides like Splash Mountain and the Haunted Mansion. Ted promised Beti $5 if she could stay awake on the ride home but of course she didn't make it. The next morning, Abe was asleep in the exact same position we'd laid him down in the night before. Exhaustion is 13 hours at Disney, but worth it, so totally worth it.

So for us as parents who want our kids to meet their heroes: Peter Pan, check. Mary Poppins, check.

Beyonce, we're coming for you next.

Our second ride and Beti's favorite of the day.

Nothing but joy while on the teacups.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cousins reunited

I have a second or third cousin (can never figure out which) who grew up in California. She's about ten years older than me, and I idolized her as a little girl. She's always had these bright blue eyes and long eyelashes that form two stars in the middle of her perfectly-shaped face that is surrounded by shiny brown hair. She was funny and adorable, talented and sophisticated and always a superstar in my little world as a pudgy, brown-eyed, bespectacled kid with mousy hair growing up in Mississippi.

She grew up to be an artist who works for Disney. As a naive high schooler who toyed with the idea of channeling my limited talent into an art career, I wrote my cousin asking about her job. She promptly answered by sending me packages of her graphic design work, which was a thrilling experience for me. A package all the way from California from my glamorous cousin? I was beside myself. However, as usually happens with cousins (especially second and third ones), we grew up and stopped seeing each other. Years and years and more years passed with no contact at all except the occassional bit of news from the family back home in the South.

Eventually I moved to California for a couple of years, and when my grandmother (her aunt) came to visit me, we spent an afternoon at her house. It was a really nice time but she and my grandmother spent most of the time talking, so even then, I didn't spend much time with her. Her house was warm, inviting, comfortably loud with kids running around, and I remembered why I always liked her so much. But even then, when we lived only about 20 minutes from each other, we didn't see each other much.

Last week for our kids' spring break, we decided to escape hellish March in Oregon to find some sunshine in California. Road trip 2012. We hadn't been there in a couple of years, and we were excited about introducing Beti to friends in our old stomping grounds. We only had a week, so every day was quickly turning into a game of trying to squeeze in all the people we hoped to see, all while not spending the whole time on the freeway. My cousin and I started texting about trying to get together. With our schedule and her busy work deadlines, we weren't sure it was going to happen. We were lucky enough to find out she had taken an afternoon off work, so we drove her way and spend an amazing afternoon at her house.

This afternoon with my cousin was probably the highlight of my spring break this year. Her four kids welcomed our two with open arms, scooping them away to the play room where they'd emerge in new Star Wars costumes. The adults and older kids sat in the backyard in the bright warm sunshine eating treats and sharing memories. Before I knew it, I was crying as she told us her happy memories of her uncle, my grandaddy, the one who passed away in 2001. She explained that her time spent with my grandparents were some of the happiest of her childhood. In their house, she was accepted with no reservations. Messes were not a big deal. Burping was allowed. Silliness a must. I share the same memories of them and still regularly tear up when I remember the goofy things he'd do.

The talk I had with my beautiful cousin about family and about how to move forward in a life of joy despite our past hurt... we both cried. She looked me in the eye and kept thanking me for coming to visit them. Family is important. I felt regret for not having spent more time with her during the years we lived 20 minutes away.

She'd asked us what we planned on doing the rest of our week. Besides trips to the beach and visiting friends, Ted mentioned wanting to surprise our kids with a trip to "the happiest place on earth," but that a one-day entrance was going to be out of our price-range this time round (we'd be back). My cousin got a gleam in her eye and told us to wait. She came back a minute later thrusting two adult one-day passes at me. These passes were a gift from her friend for her own family. We argued about it. I brought up her own kids who should go, to which she replied, "Yes, but we are six and these are only two passes! Take them!" It went back and forth, back and forth. I tried to avoid her eyes. I'd look away and sigh, saying we couldn't take them.

Finally, like a missile that had locked onto its target, she looked me straight in the face, eye to eye, tears in hers and thanked us for coming to visit. She said that I had to take the passes, that she was so happy we'd come to see her and her family. So I took them. We hugged, and I again felt like crying.

Life is a beautiful thing, especially when you have tearful reunions with a favorite cousin who blesses your kids with passes to Disneyland.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What She Likes

This morning I found this in our daughter's backpack among other work sent home. Why is it "quality work" you may ask?

Besides things like "friends," "food," and "lipstick," Beti likes this:

We are so proud. Truly. The talent is spectacular, rivaled only by her little brother.

The last page:

We seriously love this girl.

(On a side note, while I am fine with disagreement on topics such as the one in my previous post, I have a policy of not publishing dissenting anonymous comments, as I feel that hiding behind the 'anonymous' identity is not conducive for healthy, productive discussion. If that was you, I hope you understand and might consider becoming willing to engage in person).