"We had 50 happy years with Jane, and 14 with Lucy. So you can suddenly recall joy. It is available. You just have to reach down into your memory to find it."
Sir Richard Attenborough, speaking about the deaths of his daughter Jane and his granddaughter Lucy, both victims of the 2004 Tsunami in Phuket, Thailand.
I was reading the Daily Telegraph a couple of days ago when I saw a piece about Sir Richard Attenborough. He has a new film coming out called Closing the Ring (you'll find the trailer on the right hand column of this blog). I am a great admirer of Sir Richard's directorial efforts, Ghandi being one of my all-time favorite films and Cry Freedom another, so I couldn't pass up on reading this article.
The story spoke some about his new movie, but most of the writing centered on his coping with the loss of his daughter and granddaughter during the tsunami disaster of 2004. To paraphrase, he said that he had finally arrived at a point where he was able to recall the joy of memories involving his loved ones whereas immediately after their deaths, his box of memories seemed empty.
This post you are reading, has had four different incarnations. All of them dealing with topics of gratefulness and other suitable end of the year inspired issues but, for some reason, I wasn't really getting anywhere with them. Not only was I not going places with my writing but Mr. Attenborough's poignant phrasing was firmly parked in my head. I gave up and decided to figure out why.
You see, I am extremely capable of recalling the joy of just about anything. My own life is devoid of the monumental sadness that is now a constant in Mr. Attenborough's. Even at their darkest moments, my memories are balanced by instances of joy. My memory box is full to overflowing with the good stuff. I have joy. What's more, I've had the good fortune to recognize it as such when I might otherwise have not. I therefore concluded that my fixation on the words had nothing specifically to do with me.
Would you consider it presumptuous of my part to have arrived at the realization that what I really wanted to do was remind you of it?
I believe that there is always a time to be joyful. That's right, always. Joy can come in large bursts of color or in the most delicate of tints. Barring you being one of those unfortunate beings who have it truly bad and, don't we all know at least a little of how much suffering there is in this world? Then you, like me, can find something to be joyful about.
I don't mean to mouth platitudes but isn't this a perfect time of the year to do just that?
For an audio version of this post click here.
"We had 50 happy years with Jane, and 14 with Lucy. So you can suddenly recall joy. It is available. You just have to reach down into your memory to find it."
When my husband and I started to date seriously, he was living halfway around the world from me. This was a complication in an already unconventional courtship but we got through it fine by being good planners and travelers. Having no other personal commitments beyond what it took to care for ourselves and with the advantages of generous vacation times at both our jobs, we ended up averaging a trip every month and a half for almost two years, before we made honest people of each other.
Did I mention yet that this feat required advance programming of the kind I excelled at? I was a successful planner. The kind of person who had her calendar locked up tight and good. I could tell you what I'd be doing six months in advance down to the week, sometimes even the day. I walked around with a palm pilot (the old time version of a blackberry) and a paper agenda for good measure. How come then, I barely succeed at getting out of the house these days without forgetting the kid's juice box or his nap mat? To see me now, you'd believe I'm the most disorganized human you've ever laid eyes on. I hardly manage to shower in the mornings and every accomplished task seems like it has happened by the skin of my teeth.
What's different? Truly? I'd like to say that having a baby changed everything and in a way, my son's existence is partly to blame for this malaise but if I have to point a finger, the actual culprit is my very own nature. I was always disorganized, I just hid it well and I fought against it constantly. With singular determination, I forged myself into something other than the true scatterbrain I am. It was like a straight jacket this organized persona of mine.
I've been told by my mother that I resemble her mother. With my own eyes, I've confirmed the truth of this. Grandmother and I, we start out a task and halfway through (sometimes not even that) something else calls out to us and off we go. By the time we come around to what we'd originally started with, time has passed and other semi-finished jobs litter the way.
Now where does my toddler fit into all this? He just makes it easier to get distracted. He's at an age where my main task is to put out fires with him. I haven't finished uttering the word no to something he shouldn't be doing when he turns around and does something else that elicits the same response. Under the circumstances, it's very hard to remain focused. My most productive times then are the early morning or the late at night moments. That's why I'm an early riser and a late sleeper. I'm finishing all my half-baked jobs.
What to do? Nothing much really, just keep on trucking. I'm beyond trying to return to that other self at this point. I'll continue to get everything done slowly and haphazardly but surely. No palm pilots, no agendas, only post-it notes like scattered breadcrumbs to show the way through the thicket of my tasks. Finding my head is a challenge but when I wake up in the mornings and find it still attached, I realize I've succeeded for yet another day.
For an audio version of this post click here.
I can't exactly say why certain moments stick out clearly in my memory and this observation is especially true of those remembrances that deal with the early years of my life.
In an old album there is a faded photo of me wearing a little blue coat, tiny red bows adorning my hair in pigtails as I stand in front of a fountain in Bogotá, Colombia. To get there from where I lived in Panamá, I took my first plane ride with my parents at the unripe age of two. My first memory ever comes from this trip. I am being lifted into my mother's lap as she points out to me the clouds in a blue, blue sky. There is no sound in my mental movie reel, nothing before and nothing after - just that one, brief and blurred moment - a lift into her embrace, her finger pointing and fuzzy whiteness against a blue background.
Fast-forwarding to the age of six, I distinctly remember packing my favorite lunch box with my most precious Barbie in her best dress and matching shoes. I had debated whether to fill the remaining space with my second favorite Barbie or an apple. I was about to march into my parents bedroom in order to tell them I would be leaving their house for good! I didn't want to go to bed at eight o'clock every night and my youthful act of emancipation seemed quite clearly the only course to follow. My mother and father had been watching television in their bedroom and at my decisive farewell, I remember them looking at each other in a silence ripe with their internal communication. If I was set on going my mother said, then they would do nothing to stop me. They would miss me, but I had their permission to leave. What would they do with my toys and room? I asked. Your sister will likely get them.
Without a single tear or voiced protest they kissed me goodbye and remained watching the TV. For my part, I marched down the stairs to the front door in utter confusion and I was so upset at having this unforeseen outcome be the result of my ultimatum, that in a fury, I banged the front door shut with all my might. I knew they hated that. The neighbor's cherry tree half-way down the block was as far as I got before the darkness scared me and the worry set in. My second best Barbie in my sister's destructive little hands? I simply couldn't bear it and this was what turned me back towards my home. My mother told me later how she and my concerned father had followed my progress down the darkened street peeking from the window of their bedroom. For a moment there, it had seemed to them that I was going to go through with it after all and my father was about to go after me when they saw me turn back.
Years later, I found myself seated at the dinner table of Mr. Ingemar Lundberg. He was not only the Swedish consul to Panama but also the father of my dear friend Carin. I was tearing into Mrs. Lundberg's exquisite Marañon tart when I heard my father softly correct a pronouncement about Panamanian legislative districting that Mr. Lundberg had just made. At thirteen, I cared nothing whatsoever about the subject but to my subsequently attentive ears, I heard my father easily and engagingly explain what is an otherwise extremely boring subject. In a few minutes, I observed the awakening admiration in Mr. Lundberg's eyes, it mirrored my own. That was the first time I ever saw my father as something other than just my father.
In his long and exemplary life, my father has been many other things than just a family man and my mother's husband. He's been a horse jockey, an apprentice tailor, a classical music radio presenter. From budding political activist he turned into a well-known politician in Panama, became a respected lawyer, a professor of Law at our state university, a founding member of the Panamanian diplomatic corps and a consummate diplomat. Amongst his many public titles he's a three-time Ambassador and twice, he's been named Under-Secretary of State for my country. All of his career he has parlayed out of a love of learning and an intractable integrity that many, even his opponents, recognize.
I am hard put to summarize in this post the many wonderful lessons I've benefited from by being my father's daughter but foremost in them is his egalitarian respect for others. My father knows by name and greets with equal effusiveness the boy that packs his bag at the grocery store as he does the many more prominent persons he deals with in his life. His facility to engage cordially with people is not something I have inherited but learned. There is one fundamental component to this lesson and that is politeness above all else. I have come far with just this one teaching and believe that the best and most memorable of my acquaintances stem directly from it.
Another lesson is that there is no other way but to march forward. Presented with moments of extreme adversity throughout his life my father has always been a warrior. His intrinsically optimistic personality is the fount from which he has drawn to survive many difficult moments and, on the occasions where I have been in a similarly difficult place, I have mentally invoked his ability to rally forth as a shining example in the face of my own weakness.
If I can say one last thing about my father and about how he has influenced my own personality so profoundly then, I must not omit to mention his love of family. My father loves quietly and deeply and there are no greater loves in his life than my mother, my sister, myself, and now my son, the extension of his blood-line. What this knowledge has given me is priceless and almost impossible to explain in just a few words. So many good things flow from it - my self-confidence, my constant desire for self-betterment, the loyalty and love I extend to others, the honesty of my dealings. He has loved me so well and selflessly that I, in turn, know what it takes to do the same.
Many are the days I have wished we did not live separated by so much distance - he and my mother in Panama, I in Houston with my husband and child but today especially, I wish it most. It is his birthday, he has turned 71 and I am not there to celebrate with him. Instead, I am writing him these words hoping he will read them and know how much I pride myself in being his daughter, how very much I love him. Te quiero papi, feliz cumpleaños.
For an audio version of this post click here.
Little bits of white paper were flying crazily about the highway as I drove yesterday. Some were small enough that for a moment I thought it was snowing even though my air conditioner was on and outside, the temperature was unseasonably warm. Seeing them made me nostalgic for winter which was very unlike me because, I'm most definitely not a fan of cold weather nor of snow.
When I was a fairly young woman and about to start my university studies, I thought I wanted to become a simultaneous interpreter. Some other time I'll tell you what had made think I could be one but for the purpose of this story, all you need to know is that with this wish in mind, I'd applied and been accepted to a prestigious university program in Grenoble, France.
You probably know how it is. You finish your high school and you are just itching to test whether you are grownup enough to make it out in the real world without the parents. Somehow, I'd actually convinced myself up until the point where I wimped out, that I wanted both the separation and independence from them when in truth, I wasn't at all prepared to stretch my proverbial wings.
I thought about it too late but the closer departure time came, the further away Grenoble seemed. It was in the Alps... high up... in France! I'd never lived in Europe and I was mostly used to sea-level altitudes and tropical heat. How was I ever going to make a life there, so far from my family and everything I knew?
It's true that I'd gotten much self-important mileage from being spoken about as the daughter that was going to study in Europe but, when push actually came to shove, I realized this counted for little and I balked at leaving. That's how I ended up in Canada instead of France. Bonjour Québec.
After confessing my true chicken-heartedness, my indulgent parents discarded their initial efforts to get me to Grenoble and found me a Frenchy alternative within this continent. I didn't deserve it but their forbearance had a hand in placing me and my suitcases in the home of a Madame Thérèse Lacroix one afternoon in the fall of 1990.
Thérèse Lacroix was a friend of a friend of my parents. The mother of six children, she and her husband had only the youngest daughter still living with them and a large home with several empty bedrooms that had not been occupied for many a year. One of these she opted to rent out to me as a favor to hers and my parent's, mutual friend. At the airport, I remember seeing her nodding approvingly at my wintry getup as I arrived. I wore a hat that my mother had given me, gloves, a scarf, a thick turtleneck sweater, some sturdy oxford style shoes, dark tights, a woolen skirt and a heavy weather coat. I had come prepared, or so I thought, for winter.
As-tu des bottes? No, I'd brought no boots with me I replied, as she tut-tutted loudly at their absence from my belongings. Il faut que tu les achettes aussitôt possible. As soon as possible I was to buy myself some boots, she said. At that time, I had no clue why she seemed so fixated on the whole boot issue but I ignored it because I had more pressing things to worry about in my initial days of settling in. It wasn't until the first snowfall that I finally understood why boots were so important.
I wonder if you've ever heard of the Peninsula of Kamchatka? For the geographical layman, it's in Russia and for the non-weather trivia inclined, it receives about 110 inches of precipitation yearly, mostly in the form of snow. That's a lot of snow. Approximately 9 feet or more of it. Go ahead, take a guess as to which other part of the world comes in at a close second for the snowfall title of the year? Good guess! - Québec.
...So, I plastered my nose against the window and marveled at the wintry blizzard raging outside. It was beautiful. A perfect traffic stopping, stay-at-home with a steaming cup of chocolate and light-up-the chimney, kind of storm. In Washington DC where I'd had my first snow experiences, I'd never seen anything that could compare to this. Within just a couple of hours a thick blanket of powdery whiteness covered everything and it seemed like life should have come to a standstill. I had short-lived visions of staying inside my new home for the next couple of days and weathering it out. No such luck. In Québec, heavy snowfall of the constantly accumulating kind, does not, I repeat, does not, interrupt daily life. If it were to, as Madame Lacroix so sagely pointed out, nothing would get done. It snowed all the time in Québec during that winter, the snow never stopped falling and the air never heated enough for it to melt. I had to live with it and wade around in it and basically, struggle through its incredible quantities.
For the next four months, before I started begging my parents to let me come back home, I roughed it out in sub-zero conditions and more snow than some people will see in a lifetime. I survived, semi-thawed, by learning my way through the underground tunnels that crisscross the city and which allow its inhabitants to get from point A to B without having to walk above ground. I also got myself a pair of impermeable, plastic-soled, fleece-lined, knee-high boots. Though I sank into deep snow at almost every turn, my feet and legs remained dry for the most part and I was so grateful for my boots that I've kept them after all these years.
Because of the time that I lived in Québec, the very idea of snow metamorphosed completely within my head. It went from picturesque to inconvenient nuisance, from romantically atmospheric to a portent of gloom. I grew to dread the unending snowfall and the tall walls of dirty snow piled so high it franked all sidewalks and streets. Snow, snow, interminable snow everywhere. Are you truly blaming me for wimping out again and wishing to leave?
My parents certainly didn't and, at the end of the semester I bid Madame Lacroix a fond, if hasty farewell, quit Québec City and went back home where I congratulated myself on my narrow escape from death by ice coffin and told everyone how I'd happily live in a snow-less place for the rest of my life.
Today, through no design of my own, you find me here in Houston. Snow has fallen once and only fleetingly, in the four years that I've lived here. I haven't missed the snow, truly... I'll just chalk up yesterday's longing to temporary insanity on my part while I continue to wilt gracefully in this, my Texas heat.
For an audio version of this post click here.
I remember my father telling me once when I was young that the act of cursing demonstrated poor vocabulary skills as well as a distressing lack of imagination.
Amongst the many parental pronouncements he has made throughout my life, this particular one has stayed with me and I credit it indirectly with blunting a large part of my desire to curse or utter a profanity even to this day though unfortunately, it has never managed to kill it altogether. The kids at Starbucks yesterday, will take full responsibility for accomplishing that.
Picture my afternoon - In order to pick up some shirts I'd left the day before, I pull into a parking space at my local dry cleaners which is next to a Starbucks. Sitting at an outdoor table I observe a gaggle of teenagers doing the teenager-y thing: amplified talking, public ribbing, some awkward-looking flirting is also going on. I notice all of this while I hunt for my claim slip because teenagers fascinate me for the simple reason that I anticipate my son's growth and behavior to run more parallel to what is current now than to the kind of straight-laced upbringing I had. To see how they act is to perhaps see how my own son will act when he gets to be their age.
Claim ticket found I open my door to hear the following attention grabbing exchange:
No way! Gettaoutahere! You A-h_le! F__k you man!
Naw man, f__k you!
At this point a girl puts in her two cents worth (is it really worth even that?)
You sh__t-faced a__s-h___les! F__k you both! S__t! You f___ face! Don't DO that!
She whacks out at Boy 1 who then proceeds to call her a whore.
I could be somewhat wrong in repeating the order of this horrendous exchange for you but unfortunately, I think I got most of it right.
Whisking myself into the dry cleaners, I waited for my shirts and mentally told myself that MY CHILD would never act this way. Five minutes later, my business concluded I step out to this choice bit of words:
Some boy (can't tell if it was 1 or 2)
You're a whore Stephanie and your friend's a whore too!
Stephanie (while laughing)
You wish I was your whore A-h_le! F__k you!
Poor Stephanie, she actually looked like she thought that was a superb comeback.
I really couldn't stand much more of this so I got into the car and jacked up my NPR while I pulled out of the lot.
Later that evening, I remember lying in bed thinking how prescient my father's words to me turned out to be. Poor vocabulary... both in their choice and repetition of words. Lack of imagination... conspicuous for its crudeness, its rudeness, dare I call it... lack of flair?
Today's youth is, amongst other things, in a sorry verbal state. They also seem to be deficient in the self-respect and respect for others department. No one should allow others to denigrate them verbally and I should most definitely not have to be subjected to this kind of language in public while tending to my afternoon errands or otherwise. More importantly, parents should look upon a deterioration of their children's communication skills as a slippery slope. Whatever happened to verbal courtesy and personal manners? Whatever happened to words longer than just four letters? When did children, and in my book teenagers are still children, start referring to each other in such derogatory terms as a matter of routine? Where are the parents to put a stop to this? Are they perhaps setting the example?
I would like to think that the majority of adults do not speak in their homes, amongst themselves, as these children do in public for everyone's non-benefit. Be that as it may, how it all started or developed is moot at this point, how it may end is as clear to me as all the terrible things that happen in this world can seem clear only in hindsight.
When my son grows into a teenager, I will not be there to patrol him always nor on a daily basis. I have no desire to do that anyway. It would be silly to believe that he will never say bad words out loud either. I do hope though that for him, this behavior is the exception rather than the norm. I would hope also that through example, my husband and I would succeed in teaching him that how one greets and talks to other people, especially the ladies, is of extreme importance for reasons other than just observing the niceties. Politeness and courtesy exist for a reason and up to a certain degree, public behavior is very often a mirror of the private life.
In my case, I pride myself upon my meager vocabulary skills and I vouch wholeheartedly for my vivid imagination. My father's teaching has served me well on many an occasion when I've been able to make my displeasure or discomfort known without the use of insults. Perhaps, repeating my father's words will work for my son, the way it did for me. Setting the example however, is foremost in my list of priorities. Guess that means I've uttered my last tarnation!
You know how our little idiosyncrasies tell others more about ourselves than we would normally care to clue them in on? Well, I've kind of always wondered what the addictive sport of pillow plumping says about me. After reading this last sentence, you'll probably be wondering what I actually mean by the term addictive in reference to pillows but, before I get to explaining this to you in luxurious detail, a few simple facts.
This house, within its eight main rooms, has a grand total of (cue the drum roll please) 33 pillows or cushions (I use the terms interchangeably) scattered over the surfaces of chairs, sofas, armchairs, beds and floors.
This number, does not take into consideration normal sleeping pillows. That particular number is in upwards of 12 or more as I firmly believe that most decently raised people need at least two pillows per person to get a good night's rest though three, would be eminently preferable. All together then, we've got on or around 45 pillowy appendages in this house. According to my husband, that's 44 too many but, the purpose of this post is not to illuminate you on the vagaries of my husband's cushion preferences but to explain my own obsession with them. I love cushions and I bet you are more willing to believe this truth now that I've brought you up to speed on the hows and wherefores of our cushion-minded existence.
To continue then, the sum total mentioned above does not even include the cushions stored away in closets and hidden in the nooks and crannies that I like to believe my husband knows nothing about. You see, every once in a while, I like to rotate my cushions. I live by the credo that cushion rotating not only preserves the life and shape of the cushion but that it also renews the visual interest of the furniture we own. In my book, a good pillow is like a good shoe and no sofa or chair is complete without it. Please see the A little bit about me post to better understand my shoe philosophy and how shoes parallel the cushion matter.
OK, we're finally getting to the pillow plumping part but first, I have to clear in your head whatever mental image you are forming. No, we are not chintzy people. No, we have no rose or flower prints anywhere here and no, this place is neither decorated in a harem style nor in a nomadic-tent-like fashion. Also, we are not tripping over the darned things all the time. My husband might dispute this last statement but he is dead wrong. I happen to believe that my cushions are tastefully and strategically placed and what I think is what truly matters in the end, don't you?
Anyway, here's the plumping bit. Should you find yourself here in my home at any time in the future, be prepared to live with the fact that as pleased as I am to have you sit or lie anywhere in this place, I will almost invariably (and automatically) plump any cushion your erstwhile sitting bottom or reclining back has had the pleasure to un-plump. Yes, in my book, un-plumping is an action verb.
This compulsion of mine has become sort of a running joke amongst the dwellers and visitors to my place. I can live with that because I recognize that plumping must be done in a particular way. My way to be exact. The zippers must be hidden, the corners should be perky, all patterns must face correctly and last but most important of all, a perfectly eye-balled karate chop indentation has to run straight-down-the-middle of the cushion. I can't stress enough how terribly important this last point is, an indentation made askew totally ruins the neatness factor no matter if all the other list points have been keenly observed. You see, there's a science to this and I am very good at it. Everyone else here fails miserably at the task because no one has a love for the art of pillow plumping like I do. My husband is not only indifferent to the whole issue, he would happily see all my beautiful pillows consigned to a burning fire but then, decorating and color are not his forte. I have forgiven him this and so should you!
Note to the infidel who does not worship at the holy altar of pillows and their perfectly plumped existence: Please, spare me the eyeball rolling at this post. I care for the inviting look of my sit-upon furniture as well as your back comfort even if you, do not. I think this concern says only nice (nutty my husband clarifies) things about me.
I get this often from family members while in the midst of an attempted conversation - you're interrupting me! -
It's funny really that I never look upon my additional two cents worth as an interruption. If anything, I'm the one who is being interrupted when I obviously have something of importance to say - else I'd not be opening my mouth.
What I truly do - and this I admit freely - is talk over others. This can, upon occasion, be misconstrued as an interruption but, to be purely technical and, in the spirit of hair splitting, what I am doing is not interrupting per say, but adding. You could also call it building upon or even aggregating. Should you have a musical bent, you could look at it this way, my bit is like another chord in the existing harmony. If you are in a cooking frame of mind, look upon it as another ingredient going into the simmering pot. Are you getting my drift? Catching the gist? Comprendes?
Strictly speaking, it is never my intention to interrupt therefore, cut me some slack. You do it too. You are from the same progeny/family/ culture/sister-culture as mine and you do the EXACT SAME THING to me. We ALL speak over each other. Would we be us if it were otherwise? Have you ever known it to be any different? Live with it! Go ahead, fight for your space of the verbal territory, get a word in! edgewise or else...
For if you ever wonder how I feel about you now...
You have me. You have me completely in the palm of your sharp-nailed, softer than silk, little hand. I am yours, no one doubts it.
All my days, even the difficult ones, are somehow made remarkable by your kisses, by your smiles. When my voice calms you, when my nonsense words take your hurt away, when the circle of my arms is the only shelter you seek, I feel miraculous, empowered, mother-full. You embody the best, most brightest feeling in the world for me. Please know that your happiness, safety and peace are my daily goals.
Two places - the warm, baby fragrant hollow on the back of your neck, and the little velvety spot underneath your chin have no true rivals, save your father's lips, as my favorite places to plant a kiss and few sensations, fill me as completely as knowing that you are mine.
Of the many qualities I have discovered myself singularly capable of since I first held you in my arms, I thank you most for the gift of patience. I have reaped exceptional rewards in exercising it with you and perhaps, this would not have been the case had you not come into my life.
For when you are grown and need the reminder...
You have me. You still have me in the palm of your no longer velvety, no longer little, hand. I am yours. No one doubts it still.
All my days, especially the difficult ones, are somehow made remarkable by your kisses, by any smiles of yours headed my way. Should you need my voice to calm you, any nonsense or perhaps something that makes sense to listen to. I give it freely. Your pain I will take away however I can. Your happiness, safety and peace are still my daily concerns.
Because you are older and no longer allow me to kiss the back of your neck or that delicious spot beneath your chin, I will settle for the stubbly cheek. Your father's lips it seems, still have their rival, though I miss these tender acts more than you will ever know.
To the many qualities I have discovered myself singularly capable of with you besides patience, I add restraint and silence. I hope you appreciate this last for the gift it is. I find it harder to exercise than you could possibly think.
One final thing, it overflows me totally to know that you are mine. My pride in this knowledge recognizes no bounds, no limits. I created you but you have made yourself into who you are. I am grounded in the recognition that my life is fuller because you are a part of it. I remain lovingly your mother, no matter what.
...while the concert lasted, at those moments when I wasn't paying attention to the music, I darted what I thought were surreptitious looks at him. It was somewhat discombobulating to make the mental leap between a fictitious character on a television series and the flesh and blood person that was seated next to me. I had met famous people before. In my father's line of work I puffed on a cigar at the age of 12 with an ousted Bolivian President who patted my back when I choked, and told me that was the reason one should never smoke. I had spied an exiled Shah of Iran morose and sick as he sat wheelchair-bound so far away from the land he and his family had dynastically ruled. I had shaken hands with two sitting US Presidents and learned that adults, for the most part, tended to give children with something interesting to say the time of day even as I took shameful advantage of that knowledge. Unlike most other kids, I had grown up with an opportunity to learn that well-known people act just like not well-known people do. Everybody looks bad at one time or another and everyone eats, sleeps and poops no matter the mantle of fame they wear in the outside world and yet, in spite of this, I had never in my life been star struck. Initially, I kept on wanting to see the other side of his profile so I could spy the Chakotay tattoo. Can you believe that?
Somewhere in the time it took for the concert to end though, I stopped thinking of him that way. I realized that to cause any impression, some impression, hopefully a good impression, I would have to learn him for who he was and not for whom he played.
After the final applause and encore, we went to the restaurant. My memory does not tell me any more whether we walked or took a taxi there but next thing I remember, we were being seated by a waiter in a very nice but not over the top restaurant. It was kind of small and cosy and was quite obviously a better than average eating establishment. I felt flattered that he had taken me there.
We ordered dinner. I cannot remember either what we ate but I do know that we talked a lot. More of Napoleon, more about his family. I listened as I had been taught to do. He talked with an open reservedness. Does this make sense? He was trying to tell me things but he seemed to be weighing beforehand what to say and how to say it. I can understand this. I could be anybody. He was somebody. To encourage him I told him more of myself.
Somewhere in the night, we became less guarded with each other and went onto discuss more diverse topics. Amongst them, we spoke of children with learning disabilities. Don't ask me how specifically we got there but suffice it to say that once we did, he asked me a pointed question. He said, what would you do if you ever found out you were carrying a child with Down's syndrome? In the haziness of a moment long gone, I remember answering that perhaps, if told about the disability in time, I might not carry the child to term.
Many years later, after becoming the person I am now but still wasn't then, I can tell you that I wish I had thought to answer differently. It doesn't really matter any more for what it's worth to my current life but If I could, I would add this moment in time to my ever increasing do-over list. And this is why: In the ignorance of non-motherhood, of the process and joy of watching my belly swell with the seed of life, I do not believe I could answer the same in this, my present time.
Please don't jump to the conclusion that I am a pro-lifer as pro-lifers are understood to be. I believe that I personally could not go through with a pregnancy termination but that doesn't mean that I do not believe in a woman's right to choose. I think of myself as a pro-choicer for life but pro-choice nonetheless. As pertained to me in that one specific moment with Mr. Beltran, I regret the answer because the tenor of our conversation changed after that. We talked of other things but the tenuous connection we'd initially established, fizzled and died I think. Around midnight (like Cinderella), I told him I had to leave. The choir had hired a bus to transport them to Nancy and we were all supposed to leave early the next morning. I would be tired enough as it was that I did not wish to stay longer. He seemed regretful, but that might be my romantic head replaying the scene differently. Outside he hailed a cab for me and like the perfect gentleman he had been all evening, he handed me into it and kissed me chastely on the cheek while he told me goodbye. That was the last I ever saw of him in person.
A day later, while in Nancy, I walked into a Virgin Music store and without meaning to, I headed straight to the Classical music section. In my passable French I asked an attendant to find me the EMI recordings of Pablo Casals' Bach Cello Concertos and now, if you have read my "A Little Bit About Me" post prior to starting on this one, you finally know what triggered my memory into this long, three day narrative I've been regaling you with. During dinner he had confessed to never having heard them. The store had just the one CD set. Several others with Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma, but only the one Casals. I purchased it on the spot, wrote a note, and posted it at the first post office I saw addressed via next-day courier to a Mr. Robert Beltran at the Royal Monceau, Paris.
Because I still had his phone number, I called his hotel the next day to make sure that the package had arrived and to my surprise, I was connected to Robert who gratifyingly seemed happy to hear my voice while he thanked me for my gift. He then asked me whether I had returned to Paris. I said no, I was still in Nancy and would remain there for the next few days. He would be leaving soon for other European parts he told me and he expressed regret that we would not get an opportunity to see each other again. We did the polite closing of the conversation chit chat, wished each other well and I promised to continue watching him on Voyager. That was the last time I ever spoke to him.
That's it. Kind of anti-climactic the whole ending I know, but anything else was simply not meant to be. That's not to say that I got nothing of value out of the whole experience. On the contrary. For one night, in Paris no less, I went to a concert and dinner with Robert Beltran the person, not the actor. And, I lived on to have this lovely, wistful memory of my encounter with him. He was something else alright. I hope that should he still have the Casals, that every time he listens to it he would spare a thought for me. But that's just because I am a romantic, as well as a gypsy, at heart.
And now, to assuage my husband's slightly wounded ego after he read the first initial post of this story. Yes honey. I know we have had romantic nights together, in Paris no less and in even more romantic places than Paris. I know and treasure each and every one. The mementos of those places where you and I have had our own moments I know exactly where I keep. As opposed to others. Remember Aqua Pazza? I still have the card. You might not be Chakotay love, you are definitely not Robert Beltran. You are you, wonderful in every way and, I wouldn't trade you for anyone or anything. Mine to love with all my heart and might. This, is just a memory. You are not. Thank God for that.
Goodbye everyone. Until the next post.
... when we arrived at the hotel about an hour later there was already a message waiting for me. Robert Beltran had called and left the phone number of his Hotel, he was staying at Le Royal Monceau. Could I please call him back at my earliest convenience? Thanks, Robert.
Ball on my side of the court.
Okay, I'll admit it. I squealed. Wouldn't you have? Had you been me?
All three of us got into the elevator and we went up to my room. Pow-wow time yielded the following: I had a barely cobbled together outfit. I really had not traveled with anything fancy because in chorale concerts, unless you are part of the choir, most any choice of wardrobe is okay. Of my outfit, the best part was a beautiful pair of Calvin Klein high-heeled sling-backs in black leather which I had newly splurged on prior to my travel and, a curve hugging, over the knee, black pencil thin skirt. What I was wearing as a top I really don't remember, but did you notice how I can tell you now, exactly, what I had on my feet? In any case, it would have to do as there was no time for shopping, but I worried about the dress code for the concert. Would it be too fancy for my ensemble? Not being able to do more on that front, we went on to discuss again the risks of my meeting with a perfect stranger (even a well-known one) in Paris. I'll confess that the discussion was moot at this point. I was going to go. I knew this, the twins knew it too. All that was left was to try and settle the how of my going in advance.
In my country we have a saying about how a person makes you feel when you meet them for the first time. You either get "una buena vibra or una mala vibra." Here in the US there is the almost exact same expression, someone gives you either a good or a bad vibe. I had gotten nothing but a good vibe from Robert Beltran and that is why, having decided then to trust my instincts unless otherwise shown, I pushed the twins out the door and made my call. I was nervous enough as it was about speaking again to Robert that an audience wouldn't help me at all.
When I called the Royal Monceau they put me through and he answered the phone immediately. Good, I had gotten his message then. Was I still interested in going to the concert with him? I took a deep breath and said something along the following: Yes I was, but I had a question for him. The invitation was for a concert and nothing more, correct? Baldly stated and no beating around the bush as you can see. I felt more than heard the pause at the other end of the line. He said, no. The invitation was not only for a concert but also for dinner should I care to accept. Charming of him, I'll admit, but still not enough of an answer for me. So, I rephrased my question. He had, I hoped, no expectations for anything further than the pleasure of my company right? At this there was a true pause. And then he answered along these lines: Listen, I met you by chance crossing a street in Paris, you seemed like a nice, interesting girl. You told me you like music, I like music, my friends really did ditch me. Do you, or do you not want to join me for a concert and dinner afterwards?
Fair enough. I realized at this point that I shouldn't push it further if I wanted to go. I would just have to take him at his word. I told him I'd be delighted to spend my evening in his company. He said great, and that he would come by my hotel to pick me up in a taxi at around 5:30 as the concert was to be at seven or thereabouts and perhaps we'd like to go for an apéritif before it started?
When he told me he would pick me up, I truly panicked. Having been to Paris before, I knew about Le Royal Monceau like one knows about the Ritz no matter what world city one travels to. A stone's throw away from the Arc de Triomphe and other high profile landmarks, it was old world luxury personified in an ultra swanky Paris setting and I, was staying in anything but. If you've ever traveled with a large group like a choir, you can bet that on the scale, the accommodations weigh more towards the cheap and bare minimum. My hotel, was quite obviously not the 600 count Frette sheets environment that Robert seemed to be enjoying. I felt like the girl from the wrong side of the tracks so I told him I'd meet him at his hotel. Was I sure? it would be no trouble at all to pick me up... Absolutely not I said, I would rather meet him. Okay, he'd see me in about an hour then. Fine, I replied.
The next hour passed me in a blur and what next I remember is being handed out of a taxi by a hotel attendant as Robert walked out to meet me. How nice to see me again, he was glad I had decided to accept his invitation. I looked lovely he said. Did I care to walk a bit and take in the sights on our way to the concert hall? So we walked for a while and when the opportunity arose to sit at an outdoor cafe, we ordered something to drink and did as Parisians do. We watched people walk by as we chatted and got to know each other. No, he was not of Native American Indian descent. He was of Mexican extraction. His parents or grandparents (can't remember which) had emigrated to the United States and he was one of many brothers (at least 6 or more) born to them here. He had grown up in the US and he currently lived in California. He had a famous musician brother, Louie Cruz Beltran of whom, like the rest of his large family, he spoke of with love and pride. He was in Paris because his show was on a recording hiatus and until they started shooting again for their next season, he was there for some R&R and to research the life of Napoleon Bonaparte for a play he had the possibility in mind to write. He thought of Napoleon as an incredibly charismatic and interesting historical figure and I could tell he was clearly fascinated by the man's life and death.
How about myself? So I told him about how I lived and worked in DC as a video producer and digital editor and elaborated further on the reasons why I had decided to travel with the choir for my vacation. I told him about my own family and that I was one of two daughters born to diplomat parents which was one of the reasons why I could speak some French. My parents had always encouraged me to learn languages, and just plain learn. I was not married, and was not currently dating and so far so good on that front. I apologized for having accosted him out on the streets of the Quartier Latin and asked him if he was exposed to that kind of behavior regularly by his fans to which he replied that sometimes, though less in places like Paris where he could pass by more anonymously.
Soon enough, it was time to start walking again and we arrived at the concert hall (which one I cannot remember) though I am sure that somewhere amongst my old things I have kept the program. Our seats were superb. We were not in the orchestra section but on the first row of a balcony slightly off to the left side of the stage. Visually and acoustically I could not have asked for better as I had a perfect view of the conductor and all of the orchestra players. When the lights went down we settled to the joy of listening and it was indeed a very good concert. They played some Mozart, I definitely remember that and something by Haendel and then a more contemporary piece I think. At the interval he displayed more knowledge of music than I had imagined him capable of and impressed me beyond what I had already been impressed. He was a thoughtful, engaging, twinkle in the eye, half-smile-upon-the-lips kind of guy and I thought what a disservice the television did him as he was more attractive in person than anyone can ever imagine an actor viewed only through a screen could be.
Pause. I'm sorry to do this to you once more but I've got the dinner to cook and a poopy child to tend to. I will conclude this tomorrow hopefully. Again, until then.
Yesterday's post reminded me of a bit of trivia that has always stayed in my head. Did you know that three great Pablos died in the same year? I'm speaking of Pablo Picasso, Pablo Neruda and Pablo Casals. Casals I mentioned previously because I was telling you that his recordings of the Bach Cello Concertos are at the top of my musical love list. Well, all three died in 1973 in the months of April, September and October respectively. See? Now you too know a bit of useless information that will probably stay with you the same way that this bit has stayed with me. The strangeness of the mind - we remember the least helpful stuff sometimes.
Thinking of Casals also reminded me of one of the most romantic stories I can ever relate having happened to me. Unfortunately, it didn't include my husband but that is neither here nor there. What makes it romantic is the interrupted and one-time aspect of the encounter I'm about to relate. Think of Andersen's fairytale the Little Mermaid. Would the story be as memorable if the Mermaid and the Prince had lived happily ever after? Of course not. That's what makes the tale poignant. She dies (gulp), he marries another. Not that my story is anything as long-winded and tragic as this at all.
Anyway, I'm getting off track here. What I wanted to tell you was that in 2000, a long time after I had left the choir I used to sing with, I found out that they were traveling to France to participate in the Nancy International Chorale Competition and they very kindly extended me an invitation to travel with them though, not as a singer because I hadn't trained with them for years but, more as a translator as I happen to get by in French. I was up for vacation at work and I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with my old singing mates so I accepted and found myself in Paris where they were to start their concerts before traveling on to Nancy.
Two of my good friends in the choir were the tall and good looking twins, Elsie and Esther. They'd never been to Paris before and being young and curious they wanted to take advantage of their free time to explore. I got roped into giving them a mini tour of what I knew, as I'd been to Paris a couple of times before with my family. After indulging in some wonderful crêpes in the Quartier Latin, we went for a walk and crossing the street, I see an extremely good-looking man about to cross from the other side. He was Robert Beltran. For all you non-Star Trek fans out there, Beltran played the first officer character Chakotay in Star Trek Voyager. I was and still am, a great Star Trek The Next Generation fan and later, became an equally great Voyager fan. Needless to say, I recognized him immediately and totally lost it.
As my two friends described it later, one minute I was next to them about to cross the street and then, I was accosting a man on the other side of it. I remember repeatedly pointing at him almost to his face and saying (as if he didn't know already) "you're Chakotay, you're Chakotay!" To his credit he was very calm about the whole experience of having a midget-sized woman (I'm short) jumping him excitedly and blocking his way.
He very clearly said to me, "Actually, my name is Robert Beltran" to which I replied that of course I knew that this was his real name, and that I had an uncle whose first name is Beltran (which is totally true, I swear, he's my mother's brother) and I also told him, though I should have stopped right there and then, that I used to have an advanced calculus professor whose last name was, of all things - Beltran! Professor Beltran! I'm sure he was just dying to know all that. I sounded addled but, in my defense, he was the addling type of handsome.
While I babbled and made an absolute cake of myself, I noticed that he had the nicest kind of crooked smile on his face and his gaze, conveyed the indulgence a well-known actor might show a rabid fan for no reason other than him being personally kind. He handled me with the aplomb that only having experienced encounters with people like me can possibly afford someone like him.
That is surely the only explanation for why he heard my incoherent rambling through and then politely replied how nice that must be for me as he took a hold of my elbow and pulled me onto the sidewalk next to him. Cars had been waiting to move on while I'd been talking.
Am I conveying to you how simply moronic I must have looked? There's no other way to describe it really. Silly, gauche, inarticulate. In plainer words, dumb, dumb, dumb. I'm probably blushing as I write for you what I remember of that moment. In an extremely short span of time, I went from being the poised woman I believed myself to be and morphed into some crazy stalker bothering someone famous on a Paris street no less!
By this time, my friends had crossed over and they had no idea who this man was. Having grown up in Latin America, they'd never watched a single Star Trek or Star Trek franchise episode in their lives and so, to prolong the awkwardness of this encounter I found myself introducing them to Mr. Beltran and explaining what he did for a living. Caught in between us, he played the graciously recognized actor, and asked us what we were doing in Paris addressing the question to all three of us. I bulldozed my friends and piped in that we were singing in Paris though, as you well know, I was doing nothing of the sort. At this, he looked a mite more interested and asked us what type of singing, to which I again replied for my friends and told him that our repertoire included madrigals, and music by Monteverdi and Scarlatti and so on and so forth.
In an attempt to assuage my later guilt at sidelining them, my friends told me that it was clear from the start that he was addressing his questions mostly to me and that they enjoyed their roles as spectators in our verbal tennis match too much, to take umbrage at my monopolization of the encounter.
So, Mr. Beltran said, we were there to sing were we? Well, he was himself a great lover of Medieval and Baroque music. At this point I felt compelled to clarify that I used to sing and at his somewhat crestfallen look I further explained that I loved music so much that this was the reason I found myself in Paris even though I wasn't going to be doing any singing. Looking at me (I remember this quite clearly) while generally addressing the question to the three of us, he then said that some friends of his had left him high and dry for a Classical music concert he was supposed to attend that very evening and would we be interested in joining him in their stead. What do you think I did?
Had I shown a little bit more enthusiasm, I would have ended up knocking the man to the ground. Of course I said YES! The twins mumbled something about how sick they were of all the music and how they'd rather explore some more so thank you very much, but they'd pass. At which point, Robert Beltran and I went on to exchange hotel names and he promised to call mine to tell me at what time he would pick me up for the concert that evening and we parted ways after my friends took the requisite photograph and he had signed an autograph for them.
When we started walking again, my friends peppered me with all kinds of questions and I was just in a stupor. Robert Beltran had asked ME out. My friends were really kind when they agreed that they could tell he had asked the question of joining him for the concert specifically for my benefit. And that their decision to forgo the experience was not in any way a loss for them as they'd be listening to more Classical music than anybody would care to in the upcoming weeks of their tour plus, they said, they had NO CLUE who he was so there was no excitement factor in it for them and that they couldn't be more pleased for me about my having accepted. Did I deserve such good friends?
Walking back to the hotel I started to have some misgivings about the whole thing. What if, I thought, the invitation was not as above board as it seemed. I had no intention of acting like a groupie if that is what was really behind the asking and I expressed my already growing concerns to my friends. Esther's answer to this was: "He likes Monteverdi, what kind of ax-murderer does?"
Now I know what you are thinking because I was thinking it too -- ah... Hannibal Lecter would. I had visions of Chianti served with dinner and a Monteverdi madrigal in the background let me tell you. But really, excitement at the prospect of going to a concert with Robert Beltran was foremost in my mind and I tried to temper that by admitting that the odds were that he had forgotten about me the moment he had turned around and, that there would be no call to our hotel to cement plans for the evening. The twins agreed gravely that this might be the case and concluded that I was probably right in thinking that he was just acting politely. Nevertheless, should he truly call they said, I just had to go through with it because I'd regret it otherwise, Hannibal Lecter or not. When we arrived at the hotel about an hour later there was already a message awaiting me.
Sorry to interrupt but my fingers are getting really tired plus I've been neglecting my son to write this much so, I will continue with this tomorrow but, before I go, I hope you join me in wishing Mr. Robert Beltran a Happy Birthday. While looking up the link for his name when I mentioned him above, the official Star Trek website mentioned that today, of ALL DAYS, was his actual birthday. Could anything be more coincidental and apropos? You see why I tell you that I believe in things like serendipity and destiny? I had no idea that I would write about this man, whom I once had the pleasure to meet, in my newly minted Blog on the day of his birthday but, there you have it. It was meant to be, like so many other things in my life have also.
Until tomorrow then.
This entry is only because I finally wrote something in the About Me section of this blog but, I didn't have enough space to tell you as much as I wanted so, here is the extended version in no pre-meditated order.
This is what I watch:
I'm a two reality TV show junkie. The Bachelor (this last bachelor really is the best one so far) and The Amazing Race. They are my Sunday and Monday night fix. I am also a one cooking and travel show addict - Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. His show is hilarious and irreverent and you learn so much in an off-hand way.
This is what I buy:
I adore and I do mean ADORE shoes. I suscribe to the belief that a well-made pair of shoes can make any outfit seem stylish and that good shoes are an essential part of a polished ensemble. I used to be a purse addict also but that was before the child. Ditto for clothes but, I draw the line on giving up the shoes. Nope. No way.
This is what I do when I am by myself or with just my son:
Sing. Though I don't sing as much as I used to anymore unfortunately. A long time ago I sang and traveled with a professional chorale group. It was quite an experience. Some of my best memories and learning occasions are tied to my singing. You know, if I could choose any singing voice in the world, I'd have a hard time choosing between having Federica Von Stade's and Cecilia Bartoli's voice. They are both glorious for different reasons.
This is what I like to play:
Rummykub, it is simply addictive. Haven't played in a while because my husband is a backgammon guy and I just don't get that game but, with Rummykub, I'm virtually unbeatable on a good day. Also, Tickle-wrestling and Hide and Seek with my son.
This is something I have a masters degree in and yet do not consider myself to be:
Photography. I am unfortunately not a good photographer in spite of the nice diploma.
In this, I am so much like my mother:
I love cooking and cookbooks. Lord, don't get me started on cookbooks- I'm a cookbook lady of the night.
What I love looking at:
Besides my son asleep, awake or in any other state, I like looking at art and graphics and design magazines and fashion. I love looking at flowers, colors, a well-appointed room, my husband's eyes crinkling in laughter, a happy face, a happy child, my mother lovingly looking upon my son, a beautifully served meal, an empty plate (especially if it was previously filled with something I cooked).
What I listen to:
Music of almost any kind except rap. I'm always playing something but, if I had only one thing to listen to, I would chose the Bach Cello Suites (the Pablo Casals recordings which my sister introduced me to so long ago). It gives me everything I need no matter what the mood.
Here are the people I love above all else:
My child, my husband, my parents, my sister, the rest of my family (blood related and not). I am who I am because of them.
What I strive for always:
A fair and open mind, a quiet spirit, to find the laughter and being kind.
Things I love to do:
1. Watch movies in the movie theater. DVDs are a poor substitute.
2. Inhale books. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to read. I cannot envision life without books. My idea of the best gift ever is money to buy books. I still have somewhere in an old journal a cutout from a 1980's magazine that shows the library I've always wanted. I could live within just two rooms, a library and a kitchen. Cook and read. Heaven.
What I can't stand seeing or reading about whether in real life or movies:
Children getting hurt.
Here's what I like to read:
I have a true bias for biographies, histories and cookbooks (we've talked about this), romances (don't sneer, romances are... necessary). Get your hands on a book by Georgette Heyer or Mary Balogh and then tell me you don't agree. I love novels set in Britain during the Georgian or Regency period, I gobble up children's books (there is great art there) and anything in the fantasy and fairy tale genre. Oh! I was forgetting short stories. Big Maupassant and Balzac fan. Have I told you about the poetry? Can't write it but love to read it.
Who I would like to be a little bit more like:
1. Martha Stewart. I want her craft room and I want to be as organized as her.
2. Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. So much wisdom, such childhood zeal.
What I'd give so much to understand:
What my son is thinking sometimes when he looks out at the world through those eyes of his. All my pennies for his thoughts.
What I cannot understand:
Someone hurting a child. Bigotry, racism. All fighting born of religious differences.
Things I believe in:
1. Six degrees of separation.
3. Being grateful for everything I have.
4. My son was meant to be born to my husband and I and not, to anyone else.
What I hope to see 20 years from now:
1. My marriage still going strong.
2. My parents still healthy and alive.
3. My son, a well adjusted individual.
4. A healthy planet.
5. A Breguet watch on my husband's wrist. Shallow and materialistic I know, but I have my reasons.
6. Myself, a famous cook and romance novelist.
7. To have known the last 20 years of my life to be quietly happy and singularly peaceful.
You know, I had no idea that choosing our family holiday cards this year was going to turn into such a dilemma for me. Last year I ordered late so the choice was basically out of my hands, it was either/or. This year I've been good though and now I'm being punished. I've remembered that I had to do the ordering by mid-november in order to get my cards by the second week of december which, is a perfect time to start mailing them out. Don't you think? The problem is that there are too many choices: folded, flat-card, letterpress, thermal print, with photo, without photo, lined envelope, non-lined envelope, you name it.
On top of that, this year, for some reason, I've found a proliferation of websites with just the nicest offerings ranging in prices from the reasonable to the outrageous and I just cannot make up my mind. If you knew me better you'd realize that this is sometimes a malaise I suffer from. For the most part I get through my choices fairly quickly but every once in a while, I get royally stuck.
I've been on the issue of which card to choose for three days now. It's a problem because time is of the essence. For every day I dilly dally, I get set back three days more on the delivery date. At this rate, you'll be getting your holiday card from me in January. My husband would say of course that this is a typical woman thing and men don't have these kinds of problems - quick! Think of an obnoxious male voice as your read this - I have real problems to think about honey, they all look the same to me (that is NOT what I am asking!!!) and you are just throwing money away if you ask me (was I asking him this people?), they'll all end up in the trash anyway (subtext: be a doll and don't bother me with this, will ya?).
Be that as it may, I - WANT - MY - HOLIDAY - CARDS. Could you please be nicer than my husband and help me choose? These are the three finalists:
I've placed a poll at the top right corner of this blog so you can give me your opinion.
Should you want to check out some stationary and holiday card websites yourself, here are some good places to go to:
Update: Thanks for voting. I've closed the poll and ended up choosing the red card with the oriental motifs. I appreciate your help and all the new great card website recommendations.
I realized the old adage about only mothers being able to understand their children was completely true the day my husband started asking me for clarifications as to what our son was saying. In this household we speak three languages to our kid and he hears a fourth, which is the common language my husband and I use as well, from that Almighty God, the TV.
Needless to say, this stewing pot of accents and multilingualism has resulted in a tongue tourniquet for our poor child. Now in the toddler stage, he understands most of everything that is said to him but he still can't put whole sentences together in any of them. This is normal for children of multilingual households and though eventually he will sort everything out in his head, we find ourselves jumping hoops sometimes trying to figure out what he wants to tell us.
A few samples of what we've deciphered:
A da poopoo: Look! I made pupu.
A da pipi: You guessed it.
wicca da the pan: Here's the break down on this one - Wicca da (English for "where is") the (self-explanatory) pan (spanish for bread). My husband's gotten good on this one. He just catches the pan and he knows the kid wants bread.
Oh no! da Baba: Oh no! Where's Baba? Baba is Farsi for daddy.
No key-a-day! No key-a-day!: Basically he's trying to say "no quiere" in Spanish which means: I don't wanna. I ain't gonna and you can't make... well... I'll have you know that this is under total duress - you're mean!
Hapu look! mama! grour grour!: Mama run! there's a hapu (Farsi for woof woof or dog") and I want to talk to him, run!
Pa-que, stop! no! now! Pa-que!! stop!!! car!!: Okay, the park is next to our library so, whenever we go to the library he sees the park. Pa-que is Parque or the word in Spanish for park. This whole sentence means - Look! The park! I want to go now! Stop the car! Park! Park!
ha-di-dop-ter-o: He-li-cop-ter. The final "o" is just for good measure.
A-bo-bus: He's trying to say autobus in Spanish otherwise known as bus in English.
Luna--ai--moon!: Respectively, the word moon in Spanish, Turkish and English. He says it in all three languages because we're blind and can't even see it though, in all fairness, it's a cloudy night and we aren't blessed with his super x-ray vision.
I'm sorry to say that he's outgrowing all this charming gibberish. Everyday he pronounces clearer and is starting to string more words together in one language. I feel kind of sad for that. I can't deny that I enjoy being the go-to-girl for what my son wants to say. I keep telling myself I should record him speaking for posterity's sake but it would make me cry to hear that little voice speaking sometime in the future. I'd rather remember the childish nonsensicalness of it up here, in my head.
It's late afternoon and besides a Chinese noodle soup I made from scratch and a home that, on the surface, does not appear to be falling apart at the seams, I really don't have much of anything tangible to show for it. I've been in this place many times before. Almost every day in fact since I became a mommy.
Ask me around 7pm what I've done during the day and I will draw an initial blank 99% of the times even though, I've spent all of the hours prior to that since 6:00 am (and yes, I do wake up everyday at this time) running around.
Breakfast and lunch for my husband to go, ironing of clothes for the kiddie, make bed, pick up things, clean off furniture, plump cushions, fluff pillows, return items to their correct places, sort clothes for washing, fold dry clothes, wake and bathe my son, get him dressed and ready for school, fix his school lunch, write his name on diapers, drop him off at school, back in the car, start my errands: dry cleaners, bank, return books at the library, grocery shop. Then go home, unload, put groceries away, start dinner, leave something cooking, go pick up my son, take him to the park, wrestle him out of there, stop by the library, get more books which later have to be returned, come home and play with him, give him a bath, sit him in front of the TV so I can finish cooking. The husband arrives, showers quickly, we corral the kid, drag him to the table, we try to eat dinner together, try to get our son to eat, no luck, the kid's trying for his best impersonation of a fakir living on air. Defeated, I pick up the table, the husband washes the dishes, now for the evening potty-training torture, no luck, no pee, no poo, diaper on, pick up toys, play some more, pick up toys again, try the eating thing again, he's determined to exist on nothing, give up. Put kiddie to sleep, shutting of eyes, not to mention mouth, seems beyond him. It's 9pm or whereabouts, finally he's out cold. Now for the dreaded question - you know it - what did you do today? my husband asks.
Nothing much hon. A lot, as you well know. Same as yesterday. Wish there was something new to tell you.
How about you? I ask back. Same as yesterday, documents and reams of more documents, I'm so tired. Don't want to go to work tomorrow.
Well, that makes two of us. We watch a movie together. He resists going to sleep (just like his son), I'm barely keeping my eyes open as I finish this blog entry, my unplanned and terrible effort at emulating Tim O'Brien. To bed with me. The hubby is already there, a sleepy kiss goodnight. A sleepy I Love you from me, a drunken sounding I love you back from him. Lights out till 6:00am and repeat.
I lose track these days of how you grow
how tall you seem
Our closeness blinds me to changes
I call inner
has images of you
no photograph captured
and your youth in this world
fools me into thinking
I can remember
in twenty years
the occasion will come
when real photos
into that future
will make me weep
for this now
so long gone
no longer there
in my memory
"The U.K. Government has ruled out a complete ban on smacking after conducting a review into the practice which found that most parents would oppose such a move." The Telegraph 10.25.07
As a child, my mother was disciplined strictly. In her growing up years, as one of five children, there was little time for play, less time for indulgences and punishment for bad behavior was swift and harsh. Of the little that I know about how she used to be corporally punished, I can still manage to wince in sympathy for the child she was.
It was inevitable then, that my sister and I would grow up exposed to her inherited methods of discipline. By this generation's standards, they might be considered at best archaic and at worst, barbaric. In my time, my mother was viewed by her peers as a strict disciplinarian who allowed her two daughters very little slack and expected much more from them than other parents with children of comparable age did of theirs. I distinctly remember one of her lady friends telling her that we would end up hating her if she continued in her established course.
This was my mother's course: She was a firm believer in warnings. We would be warned repeatedly. A time-line to stop or start a behavior was clearly outlined by her and only when faced with our non-compliance, would she follow through unwavering in her determination to punish us. Afterwards, there was resentment on our part but never a feeling that she was gratuitously punishing us. My mother did not get a kick from exacting corporal punishment and, even as a child, I could sense that how she acted, was based on her belief that it was for our own best interests. Her policy was to preempt further punishment by making a first one so scathing, that we would never wish to incur it again. For my sister and I, this approach worked.
We were always so aware of our mother's inhuman ability to catch us when we were misbehaving that fear of her reaction, kept us on the straight and narrow path when otherwise we might have strayed more. This in no way cowed our childhood spirits, we were just more cognizant of the possible consequences of our actions, naughty or otherwise.
I hope you haven't gotten a wrong impression of my mother. Her stern side was balanced by the kind of unfathomable love that I still think myself incapable of replicating with my son and you can have no idea of how I love my child. She was both loving and strict and these two facets had qualities of extremeness in them. That is how it was.
In the years since my childhood, she has mellowed considerably. The doting grandmother she is today has little in common with the mother of my childhood. My son can get away with almost anything when he is with her and in her indulgence and love she will shield him even from me. She has happily relinquished her role as task-master and disciplinarian now that she is one generation removed.
For my part, I hardly ever punish my son corporally. How I discipline him so far, is based completely on his youth, his ability to understand why he is being punished and, my own personal preference to substitute his quiet chair for a spank if possible. That is not to say that I do not believe in spanking when, to my view, it is truly warranted. I will not go into the details of what I consider "spank worth" behavior. Like my mother, I neither enjoy disciplining my son nor the sense of guilt that follows. Nevertheless, from my own punishments growing up I have taken away the following: Being strict and following through on the promise of punishment, though unpopular by today's measure is not always a sign of "child mistreatment". That particular label should only be assigned on a case by case basis. In parenting, I suscribe to the thought that a strict parent can be a loving parent. That direct eye contact with my child coupled with words that are commandingly spoken work more often than one can imagine. That a spank as a last resort can sometimes be enough of a deterrent that my son will think twice about doing something he knows he should not. I am a parent. Parenting is what I am trying to do. I wouldn't want anyone to take that away from me.
Waking up yesterday and today to the terrible news of the fires in California, I cannot help but wonder upon the nature of disasters. Sitting here in Houston, I am looking on my computer at photographs of the damage, and reading stories about the human suffering it has caused.
How sorry I feel for everyone there, for all the homes burned, the memories lost, the agonizing and seemingly futile effort to save what cannot be saved and, for the enormous work the rebuilding will surely entail. I process this all from the safety of my kitchen, where I sit untouched, unhurt, a spectator much like you perhaps, to their tragedy.
This happens to me daily of course. How could it not? I read the newspaper, I turn on the television and listen to the radio. Disasters and tragedy, either brought about by man or naturally occurring, happen everywhere 24/7. I hear about them all the time. I've yet to live through one myself but I have come close enough on two occasions to know some about the fragility of life though mine, so far, has been exceptionally sturdy. It is for this reason that I am keenly aware of how I go about my life's business without major upheavals by the grace of God and sheer luck.
I give thanks that I woke up today with all my loved ones safe and my few, irreplaceable belongings intact. This amazing state of affairs is surely miraculous and words cannot express how I wish those people in California and elsewhere in the world could also say the same.
I was just thinking this morning that I very much look forward to having my son come and find me after he wakes up. Usually, I can anticipate his arrival by the patter of his feet on the floor right before he pops his head through the kitchen door and smiles at the pleasure of finding me in my usual place "there you are!" he'll say in his little piping voice, as if he's been looking for me for ever.
I melt every time. Then comes the hugging and the good morning kisses and, if it wasn't a good morning before, then the goodness starts flowing in. He has that much power my little boy. Days look sunnier after he wakes to them.
My sister always says that I wake up like a Jack in the Box. Basically this means that I open my eyes and, as if I had an inner spring, I bong upright in bed with a smile pasted on my face. I should clarify that this used to be true but no longer. After having my son and due mostly to the perennial lack of sleep, I tend to wake up less bright eyed and spastic. I also try to linger a bit in bed in order not to forgo the brief but lovely cuddle my husband never fails to give before getting up to start his day. He hugs me tight and holds me warmly and I feel so dear and loved that this too, melts me every time.
The same sister I mentioned earlier is not herself a morning person. At home, while we were growing up, we knick-named her often and unflatteringly based on her less than stellar disposition in the mornings. She was little miss vinegar or acid or miss Tasmanian devil or little scrooge depending on our daily preference. She made no excuses for her manner and over time, we learned to give her the space she seemed to need until she was truly ready to embrace the day. Some people decide when it is morning even if daylight calls it differently.
Before becoming a mommy, I was a true tea drinker in the mornings. Tea and a toasted egg sandwich with melted ham and cheese in it. Juice on the side and a bowl of fresh fruit. Now the only thing that determines the official start of my day is coffee. A generous shot of hot milk, two spoonfuls of brown sugar, and enough coffee into the mix that against the white porcelain of my cup it looks just a shade darker than milk chocolate. That's it. Good morning to you too.