And Then She Was 7

October 16, 2013 at 8:13 am | Posted in Lollipop | 21 Comments
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She’s been 7 for three days.

This girl, the one missing her front top teeth. The one who loves sequins almost as much as she loves rabbits. The one who graduated to chapter books when I wasn’t looking.

She roller skates. She backstrokes. She rides her bike, the one with the sparkly purple streamers, without training wheels.

She pirouettes.

She’s wise to this blog thing and suggested I write about “that funny growl Bun makes when he’s cranky, which is a lot, Mommy.”

She has a slight addiction to funny cat videos on YouTube.

She digs in the dirt. She makes her own mud. Her fingernails are a mess. She doesn’t care.

She does this thing now where she rolls her eyes and sighs when she’s exasperated. There’s usually an “aye yai yai” to go with it and, occasionally, a sassy hand-on-the-hip gesture.

She read a book on global warming this summer and decided to start an environmental club. There are 15 members and counting. So far, they’ve planted bean seeds, cleaned up the neighborhood park, and made nature collages. For the next meeting, she’s planning an autumn-focused sing-a-long and maybe some choreography.

She leaves me purple sticky notes on the kitchen counter with reminders like, “Please fix my bird’s wobbly beek” and “I prefer grape jelly for my luntch.”

When she grows up, she wants to run a store called Love Bunnies. She’s got a business plan partially drafted, complete with a social media component. She’ll sell real bunnies, stuffed bunnies, bunny clothes, bunny food, bunny snacks, bunny toys, and bunny bling. There may be a line of bunny ballet slippers. She will oversee things, and Giggles will be her minion. They are both okay with this arrangement.

Last week, she researched bats on the computer and wrote a nonfiction book about them because she had a little time before swim lessons. There may have been a glossary.

Last month, she got an award at school for, among other things, “general awesomeness.”

She’s 7. She’s amazing. And she’s mine.

I think I’ll celebrate with some choreography.

+++

V is for she’s growing up so very fast, it’s giving me vertigo. See more V’s at Jenny’s.

Jenny Matlock

Here and There

July 7, 2013 at 10:03 am | Posted in Transylvania | 7 Comments
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Exactly 377 days ago, we flew over an ocean, over highways and skyscrapers, over cookie-cutter subdivisions with manicured lawns and pH-balanced pools, and landed on American soil. We put our driver’s licenses back in the slightly-too-small front slots of our wallets and relegated our Romanian identity cards to a souvenir box in the closet.

We were home. No longer expats. No longer foreigners in a foreign land.

Red, White, and Blue.

But, strangely, we found ourselves on unfamiliar ground: wide swaths of glorious, sole-burning asphalt offering up more parking spots than could ever be filled, except on the Biggest One-Day Shopping Event of the Year! Places (plural) to buy milk or batteries or pipe cleaners or whatever else we might need at 1:30 in the morning. Air conditioning. Clothes dryers. Cheetos.

Welcome home indeed.

Now, just over a year later, we’re repatriated. Completely.

I haven’t eaten cabbage in a year. Or smelled it. I lie awake at night willing dusty synapses to re-engage so that I can remember the Romanian words for “snow” and “strawberry” and “cable package.” I bake without rationing my chocolate chips. And it no longer feels right to kiss a friend’s cheek when I see her in the grocery store.

But I also keep a 10-bani coin in my wallet. I automatically say “Opa!” when Bun trips over his shoe and face-plants on the sidewalk. I prefer fizzy water, slightly warm with no ice, to the ice-cold still variety. And I tuck my children into bed with a whispered noapte bună.

Red, Yellow, and Blue.

All of it — the memories that have long since been deleted from my mental hard-drive alongside the ones indelibly imprinted there — makes my heart seize up as if I were navigating the roundabout in Mănăştur on my way to Cora.

Did we really live abroad for a year? In Romania? Did we really call taxis, order pizza (with corn and ketchup), and get used to frozen hair? Did we really break two bones, have two surgeries, and navigate health-care systems in four different languages? Did we really pick cherries and apples and blackberries and eat them, right then and there? And when did we stop noticing our perpetually vermilion thumbs?

If we really, truly did all of that — and I know we did; I’m still sorting through the 6,000 photos that document it — why has it been so easy to come home? To fall back into this land of the free public bathrooms and home of the brave parents who trudge to Walmart in the middle of the night for baby Tylenol, animal crackers, and a Red Bull?

A year there, a year back here. I wanted it to be hard. I needed it to be. Because if it wasn’t, how could our year abroad have meant anything?

I’m secretly and desperately afraid all I really have to show for it is some lovely handcrafted pottery. And an immense appreciation for Mark Zuckerberg, who makes it possible for me to stay in touch with friends from places like Sibiu and Alba Iulia.

But shouldn’t there be more?

Does home ever feel too “easy”? Where is your farthest-away Facebook friend? And do you know that smell I’m talking about, that cooked-cabbage-or-possibly-a-child-with-gas smell??

My Handsome

May 10, 2013 at 7:02 am | Posted in Bun | 15 Comments
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In Europe last summer, an orange crayon melted in our rental car. We may or may not have gotten a parking ticket in Madrid. And our youngest made many a Spanish woman weak in the knees.

With his blond curls. His chocolate eyes. His dimples.

mi Guapo

Que guapo, el guapo bebé! we heard. Over and over. Everywhere we went. In metro stations, souvenir shops, park benches, hotel lobbies, Burger Kings with free wi-fi, museums, and mercados. Guapo! Guapo! Guapo!

We joked that we were lucky he was only 2  at least all  the attention wouldn’t go to his head.

Today mi Guapo is three. He’s more worldy. He knows being cute can get him things, like extra lollipops and stickers and cookie samples. He pitches fits. He throws important things in the trash. He hordes rocks. He sits on the dog.

But he’s still my handsome baby.

The one whose best friend is his stuffed giraffe. The one who is my alarm clock, leaning over his crib rails and yelling, “Mom? Mooooom? Moooooooooom?” until I free him. The one who adores poot nacks.

Last summer, when the mosquitoes gobbled up his sweetness and turned him polka-dotted, I had to explain to everyone: “It’s not chicken pox. Or measles. Really, he’s not contagious. They are just mosquito bites.” Just. He was so miserable, and he didn’t know how to make it better. I started scratching the bites for him, gently, barely more than a tickle, just enough to soothe.

Now, it’s our thing. He’ll crawl in my lap and point to an imaginary spot on his arm. “Keeto bite here, Mom. Will you scratch it for me, will you?”

And I do. And we sit there. Quiet, together, close. Him, eyes and little feet drooping. Me, wishing every trouble could be fixed so easily. But I know that’s not my job. I’m to teach him to scratch his own bites, fight his own fights, mend his own heart.

And, through it all, to smile that handsome, contagious, soulful, full-bodied, jelly-faced smile. Just like that, mi Guapo, just like that.

What kind of smile does your kiddo have? What kind of accidental rituals do you share? And have you ever had to convince people your child does not, in fact, have a communicable disease?

+++

“Y” is for youngest … See more Ys at Jenny’s.

Jenny Matlock

A Love Letter: 26 Years Later

February 5, 2013 at 1:29 am | Posted in Me | 18 Comments
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Valentine’s Day — it’s a glittering light on the horizon during those dull, murky post-Christmas days of January when snowman wrapping paper that’s 70 80 90! percent off is finally replaced with boxes and boxes of chalky candy hearts.

And doilies. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a hand-written “Be mine” and a few Snoopy stickers on a pink paper doily. Am I right?

When I was 8, I sat at my kitchen table with a stack of those doilies and a 64-pack of crayons. I wrote a different message for each kid in my third-grade class: UR 2 sweet, Love ya!, Friends 4-ever. It took me 7 episodes of Kids Incorporated to finish.

 

I brought them to school and carefully placed them in 16 decorated shoeboxes with holes cut in the top. I remember because this was also the year I found a love letter in my own foil-covered shoebox. From a secret admirer. Scrawled in freshly sharpened pencil on wide-ruled notebook paper was a poem I can’t remember and this: “With Love, K.S.”

With love! From K.S.! I glanced at the boys in my class with a nonchalance that belied my mere 8 years.

And then I saw him. A cutie named Kyle Scott. He had light brown hair and dimples. All of his permanent teeth had come in. His skin was bronze from soccer season. And? He. Liked. Me. I knew it.

But it wasn’t Kyle Smith. My teacher Mrs. Laughlin confirmed it. Something oozed out of my heart like the saccharin filling of a chocolate-covered cherry.

And then I really knew: Kniles. Kniles Smith.

He looked like you’d imagine a kid named Kniles to look. Short and mousey. Big beaver teeth. A brown bowl cut. He wore thick black glasses and made jokes about meteorology and BASIC. My heart oozed more goopy stuff.

When Mrs. Laughlin nodded her Barbie-blonde mane, I slid into my orange plastic chair. Stunned. Disappointed. Kniles.

I had enough manners to know I shouldn’t show how upset I was. But I just couldn’t help it. I felt like one of those overfilled heart-shaped balloons, the ones that never really look like hearts at all. Pop!

Even the Sixlets taped to the Care Bear and She-Ra valentines I dug from my shoebox didn’t cheer me up.

K.S. Kniles Smith. Pop!

But somewhere between the red-velvet cupcakes and the donning of my safety-patrol badge, I had an epiphany that third-grade Valentine’s Day — perhaps the first of my young Smurf-and-sticker-book-filled life. What a risk Kniles had taken writing me that poem. He had given me his heart, disguised as crooked mixed-case graphite couplets. He didn’t know how I would react. He hadn’t asked for anything in return. He just felt so strongly that the words had to come out, had to be shared, had to be folded into a pull-flap rectangle and dropped in a shoebox, my shoebox.

I saw Kniles Smith that day. Really saw him. Beyond the scrawny, awkward boy who knew more about fractions and food webs than anyone else in third grade, I saw someone with a brawny heart just as big as his brain. A Casanova, a Lord Byron, a Lloyd Dobler — on the inside, where it matters most.

For K.S, wherever you are.

++

This post is part of Momalom’s 2013 Love Fest. See more love letters at Jen and Sarah’s.

Bun: A Dictionary, Part II

December 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Bun | 12 Comments
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banks adv.
the appropriate expression to use after someone gives you what you’ve nicely asked for.

beelow n.
the horizontal surface where dinner is served and eaten (or thrown on the floor).

Bita n.
Bun’s pronunciation of Giggles (well, his real name), as in “Mimi [see below] want Bita’s poot nacks [see below]!”

bundy n.
bunny rabbit.

dert. n.
what you get if you eat a good dinner.

kissmas bree n.
pre-lit, green, cone-shaped things displayed in every store in America beginning October 1.

Mimi n.
Bun’s name for himself, as in “No! Mimi do!” or “Dat Mimi’s truuuuuuuuuuck!”

mowman n.
snowman.

nook n.
milk, best served chilled, with chocolate syrup mixed in.

orny goose n.
orange juice.

Poopie n.
Bun’s pronunciation of Lollipop (well, her real name). Cracks. Me. Up.

poot nacks n. pl.
fruit snacks, which I never, ever, ever give my children … snort.

++
Appendix
See also part 1. And don’t miss “Lollipop: A Dictionary” (parts 1 and 2) and “Giggles: A Dictionary.”
++

What’s your little one saying these days? Do you drink orny goose or nook for breakfast? And do you have your kissmas bree decorated yet??

School Daze

August 31, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Lollipop | 7 Comments
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Haiku Friday: School Daze

 

We survived week one.
Up with the sun, tangles combed,
Sparkly backpack on.

We bought lunches and
Brought lunches and imbibed the
Chocolate milk daily.

Morning circle, art,
PE, recess, math center,
And library time.

New friends named Hunter
and Lila and Kylie and
The girl with headbands.

She leads the way to
Her room, past bulletin boards
And water fountains.

The chairs are tiny,
And the cubbies are stuffed, just
Like her little mind.

How did your child’s week of school go? What was the cafeteria highlight (or lowlight) of the week? And does it ever get easier to get up before the sun?

Monday’s Child

August 24, 2012 at 8:51 am | Posted in Haiku Friday, Lollipop | 10 Comments
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Haiku Friday: Monday’s Child

 

On Monday, she will
Pick out her ruffliest dress
And princess slippers.

I will convince her
That hot pink Crocs are better
For slides at recess.

I’ll pack a jelly
Sandwich and tortilla chips
In her (pink) lunchbox.

She’ll prance into school,
Confident, loud, friendly, sure,
As she always is.

Off to the land of
Cubbies, three-prong folders, and
Math centers she goes.

I’ll marvel at this
Sharp, eager, tow-headed girl:
My kindergartner.

Is your child ready for school? Are you ready? And did you purchase boxes of tissues and crayons and blue dry-erase markers, too?

The Long Ride

August 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Posted in Bun, Giggles, Lollipop, Me, Transylvania | 16 Comments
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Today.

Today, I crawled into the back of my Forester to rearrange two car seats and a booster, shoving buckles into latches and practically begging the auto gods for a minivan.

I wheeled one of those behemoth racecar grocery carts up and down aisles while looking for bread crumbs, forgetting the lemons in the produce section (twice), and holding my toddler down with one hand because the buckle was broken — why is the buckle always broken? — when he couldn’t resist reaching for the popcorn … and spaghetti … and club soda …

 

I unearthed my largest mixing bowl and filled it with water so that Barbie could swim.

I made five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for three children, refilled milk cups four times, sliced bananas and then apples and then more apples, and dumped ostracized pretzels into the dog bowls. And that was just lunch time.

I peered out the kitchen window at the storm clouds above our oak tree and prayed they would open up. They did. I danced.

I found an exploded yogurt in the fridge and cleaned the goop left behind.

I fetched paper, markers, stickers, scissors, glue sticks, pipe cleaners, and that lime-green tractor stuck under the couch.

Today was part-tedium, part-familiarity, as those late-summer days of mothering often are. When favorite cartoons have become boooooooring. When all the rainbows and robots and kittens in rockets that can be drawn have been and are taped, nearly overlapping, to every kitchen cabinet. When shiny, new lunchboxes gleam from the pantry, waiting, their embossed aluminum lids a beacon of the school year’s imminent return.

And despite the air-conditioning, I walked around all day coated in sweat like a lightly greased baking dish.

I walked around. All day.

One year ago, I couldn’t walk at all.

I listened to doctors who didn’t speak English. I begged nurses who didn’t understand me for medicine, more medicine, please. I spent the first of a hundred long nights longing for sleep, for the ability to go to the bathroom by myself, for the muscles to turn my broken body from side to side and kick the covers off when I felt like it.

One year ago today, I couldn’t walk at all.

Now, I can feel the five pins that hold my tibia in place. Stairs still hurt. And there’s a high probability I’ll never run again.

But I can circle the kitchen on my own two strong feet, peeling off Hello Kitty stickers accidentally affixed to the tile. And I can celebrate each and every step.

What are you grateful for today? What anniversaries are you about to celebrate? And do you have stickers stuck to your floor?

The Last Souvenir

August 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Posted in Giggles, Transylvania | 12 Comments
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Before the sun and the commuters woke up this morning, we were buckled in the car and headed down the highway, soaking in the smell of my husband’s cinnamon-raisin bagel and the sounds of Pink. Giggles sat in the back, still and mostly silent, holding his favorite stuffed mouse and electric! blue! blanket!

In two short hours, we would have the last souvenir from our fantastic, sometimes frustrating, occasionally frantic year in Romania.

Not a postcard. Or a magnet. Or a bag of fluorescent, exotic-tasting candy.

 

Just two small pins. Fresh from Giggles’ humerus and a quick spin in the autoclave.

When the surgeon handed them to me, they clacked and clicked in the sturdy plastic jar. But that barely audible, innocuous sound shook my eardrums and my heartstrings like a bass drum.

This was it. We’d unpacked the boxes. Registered for preschool and kindergarten and a new library card. Eaten our weight in Eggos. And now, we’d fixed the broken arm. Deductible paid. X-rays complete. File closed.

File. Closed.

And not just on our bizarre medical history from the last year, but on our Romanian life.

Our Romanian life.

If I didn’t have two stainless steel, child-sized K-wires and a stack of X-rays in three different languages piled high on the kitchen table, I’d marvel at those surreal words — our Romanian life.

Really?

Where we really there? What will we remember? And how long until we forget?

Does your life ever feel surreal to you? What do you remember from your own life-changing experiences? And do you have any souvenirs like ours?

Place Holders

July 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Family, Transylvania | 34 Comments
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My kitchen is organized. The pots are next to the stove, their lids cascading down the shelf in size order like giant beads of shiny mercury. The collection of found keys — silver, gold, skate, possibly to our old Ford Escort — are looped on a chain and tucked neatly in the back of the office-supply drawer. (The office-supply drawer.) And the spices? Alphabetized.

There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

Except for me.

 

According to my passport, I’m home. This house is full of pictures — the two of us, smiling; then the three of us, then four, then five — so this must be home. We are here. In every room.

But if you look closely, we’re just shadows, lilting, listless, down the hallways like the year’s worth of spider webs that accumulated in our absence. We are dusty and sticky and a little bit fragile.

I’m afraid our hearts are somewhere else.

They are climbing ladders and picking cherries. They are parallel-parking two, three, five times to fit exactly right into that one open, tiny space. They are watching storks roost on the street lights. They are drinking Fanta.

They are not here, where someone wearing a red vest and a smile magically appears to bag your groceries for you. Where lawns are sprinklered and manicured. Where Target and McDonald’s and American Fireworks Factory Outlet Buy 1 Get 11 Free peddle their wares on nearly every corner.

Yes, I’m afraid our hearts are somewhere else.

Maybe they’re tucked in the 13 boxes slowly making their way to us on a jumbo truck somewhere between here and Chicago, estimated delivery July 25, pending customs clearance, absolutely no alcohol, batteries, or nail polish remover allowed.

Maybe they’re wandering the streets of Paris, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, getting their bearings and clutching their city map, just as we did not long ago.

Maybe we left tiny slivers behind with every goodbye and earnest promise to stay in touch.

Will we ever be whole again, if we gave our hearts away?

One day soon I’ll probably find them, tucked into the giant garbage bag of European Legos or pressed between the creased pages of Romanian/English: A Dictionary. I’ll dust them off and dole them out. We’ll smile and throw our hands up in the air, like we finally found that missing earring that had been mashed in the carpet right there all along.

Maybe then, this house will feel like home. Dryer sheets and heavy-duty aluminum foil won’t be odd curiosities anymore. And these laughs will sound like ours.

Then, maybe then, our memories will be enough.

How do you cope with tough transitions? Has home ever not felt like home for you? And are your spices alphabetized?

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