Monthly Archives: June 2010

Two Left Feet

This morning Blueberry ran downstairs with a plan in mind. He quickly reemerged and handed these shoes to Twinkletoes with this statement, “here, put these on and go outside with me. We play soccer?” Noone would ever accuse Twinkletoes of having two left feet (she’s an amazing ballroom dancer). But, here is the proof – two left feet.

Smile.

Advertisements

Honduras Bound

This guy, my number one son,  left today for 7 weeks. He’ll be in Honduras. You can read about the program here and here.  And, if you are a regular reader, you’ve already seen an update from Songbird’s arrival in Ecuador with the same youth volunteer program (but in her case she’s doing the job of supervisor, while kids Waffle’s age are the volunteers).
I love this kid. He’s got the greatest smile, a sense of humor that brings the house alive, and an openness and kind-heartedness that is…well…it’s impressive. I’m excited to see this young man in 7 weeks; see him with THIS experience informing more of his “becoming.” Transformative is the word I’m thinking will describe this experience for him. I can’t wait for the stories and the pictures.
The sweetest parts of his departure were two-fold. First, Waffles and Blueberry had me in tears in the car as they made some iphone videos to watch during his absence. We learned this is a great trick for Blue’s ‘missings’ – sibs and ‘honorary sibs’ (Schwartz from Finland and now Flower from Hungary)  come and go a lot in this household, so we try to find ways for Blueberry to make sense of our revolving door, and to trust in the permanence of his siblings in his life. So, Waffles made the videos with Blueberry and they made me cry. I’m keeping them to ourselves – Blue gets them without outside eyes. 
Then there was this discussion as Blue and I left the airport:
Blue: Where’s Waffles Mommy?
Me: He went on the airplane to Honduras. Remember? We just kissed him bye-bye.
Blue: Noooooooooooo, I want to go too. I go on airplane to Honduras!
Me: I’m sorry Blue, you’re going to Washington with Mommy and Daddy the next time you get on an airplane. Waffles is going to Honduras to work, just like Songbird went to Ecuador too.
Blue: What Waffles doin’ in Honduras Mommy?
Me: He’s going to live in the mountains and spend time with some kids and speak Spanish and help them with hard working.
Blue: Nooooooooooooooooo, I want to go Honduras too and speak Spanish!
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo, my foot hurts! Ohhhhhhhhhh noooooooo, I need Waffles here right now to kiss my foot! Ohhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo, where my Waffles? I need my foot kissing NOW! Come back here Waffles!

A Hungary Addition

In late August one precious little Hungarian girl will join our family for a semester of middle school.  We are so excited to see Flower (her blog name)! In the accompanying photo she’s the sweet little girl with the red star above her head.. Flower is about 8 in this picture, but she’ll be 12 and in 7th grade when she arrives this August. She’s our “Hungarian Addition.”   There is a lot I would like to share about this little girl and her family….
First, the women in this photo are among the most amazing people I know! Big sister, with the purple arrow, will accompany Flower here and stay for a delicious 3 weeks! Twinkletoes is her age mate – and believe me when I tell you these 19 year old’s have plans! Other older sister is Songbird’s age mate (21 years old). She won’t make this trip, but I can assure you we’ll be working on a way to get her here for a visit. One remaining older brother remains in Hungary too – he’s 23 and busy with his University studies. I’m pretty sure his playmates from his youth now strike him as beautiful young women … *grin*
You can guess how their relationships began 14 years ago in an elementary school classroom. Language was NO barrier for these girls….and it hasn’t been ever since! While the Hungarians lived here for 2 years, we’ve been friends beyond the boundaries of our countries and beyond those initial 2 years. Our friendship has included a journey of my daughters solo to Hungary when they were 11 and 13, a return visit from Hungarian “daughters” at ages 15 and 17, and a very special ‘all family’ trip to Hungary years ago. I often claim that the wanderlust of my girls first began in earnest with that first solo trip to Hungary – they walked a lot of dogs, did a lot of babysitting, and saved a lot of allowances to make that first trip. This picture is from that trip – it’s the “ice cream photo.” Our family trip was son Waffle’s first international journey – and I think his wanderlust rightfully began then too.
Flower was born in the USA in 1998 when her family was living here. She’s a citizen – it’s what is making her visit/stay with us possible. She’ll attend our neighborhood middle school, enjoy the beautiful piano with Mr. SillyPants, play a little outdoor soccer, and perhaps we’ll get her to our favorite vacation spot for a little California lovin’.  Flower also comes to us with loss, and it is my greatest hope to honor the memory of her mom, my beloved friend and one who I miss every single day, by being a loving and tender ‘host mom’ to her. Being with Flower is a gift – a way I can honor the vast and enduring ways I love her mom.
There is another little one in Hungary, Violet. She and Blueberry are age mates too! Her mom and I laughingly shared that little itty bitties were going to be in our lives well into our 40’s – before we actually knew who they were…..so I imagine that Blue and Violet will grow up friends with biggie siblings and lots and lots of opportunities to know each other. 
Our lives are blessed with richness. We are so excited to welcome Flower!

Songbird’s First Pictures from the Field (Ecuador)

Ecuador – Songbird Chat

I had the chance to ‘chat’ with our darling Songbird tonight on Facebook. Who knew? FB is delightfully dangerous 🙂
         (Ecuador 2010)

Here is some background on Songbird’s connection to Ecuador: Songbird was an exchange student in Ecuador her senior year of high school. She had an amazingly challenging year – and so the ‘appointment’ to Ecuador for her Amigos summer was a mixed bag for her; a chance to reframe Ecuador in a new way but also a challenge because of existing connections and some emotional baggage. Going into her application, she knew there was a good chance Amigos might want her in Ecuador – she knew she has some cultural capital that would work well in their ‘new’ Ecuador program. She’s a perfect fit there, for sure. I was already proud of the way she had sorted out her feelings and anticipated what did become a reality for her – a summer in Ecuador.

But, let me share, this kid is a warrior of the BEST KIND. Her official work with high school volunteers starts tomorrow. At the moment she has been out in the communities learning their needs, identifying their community sponsored programs, and anticipating how she can support both the communities and their youth volunteers. Here is a peek for our blog reading Songbird fans of the best parts of our FB chat — Songbird fans, I know you’re out there!

She said this about seeing her high school year host mom and dad in Quito:
“…it was really nice to see her and Manuel…he saw me and was like “Songbird que gusto – eres flaquita!”

I asked her, “are you falling in love with Ecuador anew?” She said, ” Its going to be fun coming home with so many stories!  My communities are so high up! Yeah, they are awesome, sort of difficult sometimes because the culture IS so different. but I think I’ve figured out the ins…All I have to do is go out with the sheep and help shell ava beans :-)”

I responded: “I am so happy for your chance to reconnect and recreate a new reality for yourself there –
it makes me extra proud of how brave and courageous and forgiving you are.”

She laughed and told me:  “Yeah…the sheep. I’ll come back home a good shepherd!”

You know what, I bet she will! Here are a few details about her life in Ecuador:

  • The first language of her communities is Kichwa
  • She’s working in 3 communities
  • Elevation is 4200 meters
  • Everyone eats lots of potatoes, ava beans and rice
  • People go to bed about 8 pm when the sun goes down and get up at 5 am when the sun comes up
  • She can buy about 6 avacadoes for $2 and is cooking some awesome local flavors

Fun. Fun. Fun.
                                                                (Ecuador 2010)

I miss this amazing daughter of mine, and I love her anywhere and everywhere
she travels and works as she  lives her lovely life.  

Father’s Day

Mr. Sillypants, once again, taking a moment to wrap up an interesting Father’s Day 2010.  Many thoughts have been bouncing around my somewhat smallish and thick skull today, many of them relating to fatherhood and my own father.

My day started out with an absolutely sublime moment when Blueberry came into our bedroom with a card in his hand, stating happily, “For *you*, Daddy.”  In it was a moving bit of prose from Ms. Plum’s hand, tender, powerful words which warmed that innermost part of me.  (Also a source of warmth was Blue’s inability to remember the previously well-rehearsed “Happy Father’s Day”, even with tons of prompting from my beloved Ms. Plum.)  Watching Blueberry’s quizzical look after repeated lead-in’s from Ms. Plum was worth it; it is a wonderful image I won’t soon forget.

However, today, in other ways, was kind of tough.  Perhaps it was the flood of memories which came to me repeatedly throughout the day, memories of my own beloved father who exited this mortal coil in 1993 at the young age of 60.  I think that Blueberry’s presence in my life has certainly made me so much more aware of my own father’s uniqueness, his qualities, his sacrifice and his enduring place in my heart.

Also, my beloved Ms. Plum and I had a rough day in other ways.  As any of you in relationship know, there are days when things just get a bit off kilter and you spend the rest of the day just not quite finding a way to reconnect.  (Rest assured, we are fine – – – we just had a rough day.)  However, there were a few terse moments, as well as a few instances where teeth were gritted and heads were shaken slowly, side to side, as we worked our way through a day which all of us (I’d imagine) have experienced at one time or another.

So, it was an interesting Father’s Day.

My father was a Lutheran pastor, a man of faith and warmth and smiles, quick with laughter, slow with judgement.  He was steady, loving, constant, humble, hard-working; he loved to fish like no other man I have ever met.  (If possible, he would go to his favorite steelhead stream every morning at 5am, throwing the fish in the back of his Datsun sedan as he rushed home to get cleaned up before heading to church.)

As a father, he was imperfect, like any of us.  He made mistakes, like any of us.  Yet, we never doubted his love for us, never doubted that he counted us as among his greatest blessings.

He was a preacher, of course, and loved to give “pearls” whenever he could.  Some of those have stayed with me to this day (and probably will be part of me for the rest of my life.)  Perhaps my favorite is, “It is better to err on the side of love than the side of judgement.”  I think of that advice whenever I am trying to figure out my best response when I feel slighted or misunderstood or wronged.

Dad and I had the typical teenage moments, times when I was trying to stretch my wings and he was trying to rein me in.  He was fond of Mark Twain’s line, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Then, when I was a bit older, in my 20’s, Dad used to pull me aside everytime I traveled home.  Somehow, he and I would end up in a car or a boat together (usually the latter), alone, so he could “tell me a few things.”  These “things” were always the same:  how much he loved me, how proud of me he was, how he was so happy that I was making my way, how he felt blessed to have “this family”, and so on.

The first time this happened, I was so overwhelmed I could barely speak.  I mean, I *knew* my father felt this way, but hearing it somehow made it more REAL, made it a memory which I could draw upon.  (This scenario actually played out, essentially unchanged, many times over the subsequent years, so much so that my sisters and I used to laugh about it privately, saying, “I just want to tell Dad, ‘OK!  I get it!  You love me!!!’.”)

Then, in 1993, I came home to the news that my Dad had collapsed suddenly, without warning, while standing in line at JFK airport in NYC.  We think he died of a blood clot after he and my mom took at trans-Atlantic flight home.  He was 60 years old, and I remember thinking that I had no idea he would be gone from my life so soon.

Now, I cherish every one of those moments when he cut me away from the rest of the herd so he could tell me he loved me, and, frankly, I can even replay them in my mind whenever I am down and need a “pick me up.”  What seemed awkward at the time has become a source of strength and assurance for me.  As I thought of these moments in the months after his death, I realize how brilliant he was, to make sure I never doubted how he felt about me. 

I made a vow that I would never be silent about my love for those who are close to me.

Tonight, after a somewhat bumpy day, I went into Blueberry’s room (as I do every night) and pulled his covers over him, pulled the books out from underneath him, repositioned his stuffed animals and then said, “Blueberry (ok, I used his real name), I love you and am so proud to be your daddy.”

I came into our bedroom and observed my beloved Ms. Plum, getting ready for a well-deserved night’s sleep.  The tension of bumping heads throughout the day was still hanging in the air, and I was pretty certain that we could pick up where we left off, if given a chance.  Weighing the myriad of things which I could have said after a somewhat challenging day (for both of us), I looked her straight in the eyes and said, simply: “I love you.”

In that way, my Father’s Day 2010 ended well.

Dad, there are many things you have left with me.  Certainly, you taught me what it is to be a good father.  You taught me to err on the side of love rather than the side of judgement.  And, you taught me how important it is that all of the people close to me know how much I love them.  This is, perhaps, the greatest legacy, one which I will try to fulfill and also teach Blueberry as he grows up.

Thank you, my beloved Dad.  And, Happy Father’s Day.

Juneteenth

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated holiday – on this day we celebrate the ending of slavery in the U.S. It is African American Emancipation Day. Let me be honest, I have not ever paid attention to Juneteenth. I haven’t ever been to a Juneteenth event. I haven’t ever known how it is celebrated nor have I been aware of Juneteenth celebrations in my own community. As a social studies teacher I know about Juneteenth, but I haven’t ever made it my own. I’m not making a stretch saying this, but,  like many white folks, I just didn’t pay attention or make this day important. Blueberry has changed this.

Today, Mr. SillyPants, Blueberry, and I headed over to a local park to celebrate Juneteenth with our community. I am going to write these next pieces with great humility and honesty – I hope I do this part justice…
When Mr. SillyPants and I were figuring out the pace of today and I mentioned the Juneteenth event, which I had read about in one of our local papers – I knew it was happening, where, when, and the outline of events. I noted the event was scheduled at a park located in the “heart of South _____” (our most diverse neighborhood in our community). How shall I say this? I felt some discomfort coming on as I was contemplating heading over to celebrate Juneteenth – and I’ve been training myself to recognize this discomfort (it’s my racist horn blasting) and to head right into the discomfort with full awareness and action. Yeah, so the discomfort alone nailed the day’s plans – we went to the Juneteenth celebration.
In our community we live in a neighborhood that is mostly white (nearly all white). Our neighborhood schools are diverse (the result of bussing), but our daily home life reflects majority/ middle upper class white. I get that – and I get the ways my son doesn’t see himself reflected in our daily lives unless WE MAKE THAT HAPPEN. Part of our commitment to him, and to ourselves, is to make our way to places and spaces where he sees himself reflected around him. Music, art, food, fun, faces, dress….I want him to see himself. I want him to know he belongs everywhere in the world. (These are things I NEVER deliberately considered with the biggies/ I thought about their belonging in a different way).
My chameleon charms aren’t so “chameleon-ish” when I’m in a space that is nearly all African American. I’m eating huge pieces of humble pie in these places. I feel my whiteness. Here’s the thing, I feel my whiteness like my students of color, like my friends of color, like my colleagues of color, tell me they feel their blackness EVERY single day they leave their homes and their neighborhoods and head out into majority spaces (um…I’m talking MOST spaces). So I got a dose of this (from my place of privilege).  And I felt uncomfortable – or maybe it was aware – or maybe it was outnumbered – or maybe it was without the cultural skills I needed to make connections instantly and easily. Hear what I’m saying?
So damn good for me. But this isn’t about me. It’s about Blueberry. We listened to some spoken word poetry, some praise hip-hop, some hip-hop, watched some awesome double dutch, and a step competition, and then we wrapped it up with some youth hoops. My African American boy was interested. He soaked it in from the comfort of our arms and shoulders or swinging inbetween our holding hands.
Next year? We’re back for more. I’m going to do better for him. One step is embracing my discomfort and heading right into it. Because he needs this and I signed up for it…with him.