Three Little Words

“Mom?”

The syllable was drawn out, long and low with a hint of whine, a precursor to a request that would invariably involve my stopping what I was doing within the next fourteen seconds.

“Yes, August?”

“I love you.”

IMG_4509This started a while ago and has continued multiple times a day ever since. At first I thought it was simply my affectionate six-year-old’s attempt to test out the phrase, one he’s heard so many times, his way of attaching meaning to this sequence of words.

Then I thought it was his way of checking in. I was doing my thing; he was doing his thing. And though I was no more than ten feet away, he wanted to make sure I was still there.

And soon I noticed it would come along, in customary sibling fashion, when one of his brothers was in trouble, an effort to highlight the fact that at this exact moment it wasn’t him.

It took me a long time to come around to this particular sentence. Though I had heard the words regularly from my mother as a child, they never seemed to align with what I thought love was supposed to be—at least according to what I observed in others, read in books, and gleaned from the all-instructive late-‘70’s NBC television lineup and 92 PRO FM playlist.

So, for a long time this sentence gave me difficulty; and I concluded, perhaps with a sigh, that it simply was not for me. I filed it away, heard other people say it, show it and wondered about it; and though I know I felt it, I never really knew how to say it.

That changed, of course, once deeds matched words, and “I love you” soon became something I not only needed to hear but needed to say. Many people, of course, feel they don’t need to say “I love you” if they are showing it. But for me, given my checkered, truncated history with this sentence, I want to leave no room for doubt.

And though August’s history is not the same as mine, he, too, is figuring out this all-important sentence. He asked this week, “Mom, why do I say ‘I love you’ so much?”

I asked him why he thought he did; and he said, “Because it’s in my heart.”

Speaking your heart. A lesson from an exceedingly loving, uninhibited six-year-old.

July 23

One day can bend your life . . .” –Mitch Albom

Oh, we all know this to be true. Examples are too numerous and too varied to even begin to make an attempt to list them here.

But for me, for us, today is one of those days.

July 23.

Our lives bent in a way we never saw coming, in a way our hearts could only imagine when we even dared to allow ourselves such a wish.

July 23, 2014.

A midsummer day that started off as uneventfully as any day could.

The novelty of summer and the drive to fill up every day with grand adventures had generally started to dissipate. It was hot. Routine had set in. My young children were staying up a little later and sleeping in a little later. I was finding myself with an hour or so each morning. I read. I wrote. I sat on my front porch and did nothing.

And on July 23, 2014, around 7:10 AM, I made my way downstairs, hungry as per usual, so I turned on the skillet and prepared to make my customary egg. And while I waited for the skillet to warm, I perfunctorily if not a little sleepily approached my computer and logged into my email.

And so began the day that would bend our lives.

David, July 2001

David, July 2001

Our former foster son, his full name emblazoned in the subject line, the same name that had been emblazoned in and on our hearts and minds for nearly a decade-and-a-half, had written five sentences to us.

Five sentences that would lead to a correspondence that would lead to a meeting that would lead to time spent together that would lead to . . . everything else.

July 23, 2014, arrived quietly and then bent our lives toward renewal, toward love, and toward hope.

And toward a future that until that moment resided elsewhere, that could never have been realized if not for five sentences bravely sent and received and for all the equally brave hearts willing to bend on its behalf.

To a Father

It took time for me to wrap my head around Father’s Day.

Growing up, my single mother would generally ask my brother and me to acknowledge her on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  It always felt obligatory, and our gifts therefore bordered on the snarky if not condescending.  And while it is true we grew up without a father in our life, our mother was not our father.  That piece was missing; and all the toolsets and Father’s Day cards we purchased for her would not make it any different.

Fast-forward many years to June 2001, my husband’s first Father’s Day.  We were foster parents, and by then I had a front-row seat to what fatherhood should look like.

Fatherhood is all-encompassing, self-deprecating, and without ego.  It is silly and playful and gentle and kind; it is showing instead of telling and taking deep breaths and rolling up your sleeves.  Most importantly it is being present, respecting each child’s individuality, and putting someone else’s needs before your own.

For being a father in every sense of the word, thank you, Donald Farias.  This beauty would not exist without you.

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Changing of the Name

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

–Robert Frost

This blog was born in June 2008. Oscar was three, Edgar two. August wasn’t due to arrive on the scene for another year. And the idea that David, our then-foster son eight years prior who never, for a single second, left our hearts, would find us, want to reconnect with us, and then move in with us seven years later was a dream we never dared entertain.

In these 11 last months, writing about the transformation our family was undergoing was challenging. I blamed it on writer’s block, figuring every other writer on the planet suffered the occasional bout, so why shouldn’t I? But, of course, it was more than that.

For reasons of privacy, empathy, and truly not knowing what to do with the well of emotions that have been steeping for the last year, I opted to put my efforts elsewhere, living life and electing to make sense of it through writing later.

IMG_4035But now later has arrived.

And thus the name of this platform must now necessarily change—once The Adventures of Oscar and Edgar; then, with the arrival of August and a nod to one of my favorite childhood television shows, My Three Sons.

But no longer are there three sons.

There are four.

Four.

I will spend a lifetime trying to figure out how this all happened, endeavoring to deserve the honor that has been bestowed on me, the trust that has been placed in me.

But for now, I will start today with a name change.

This blog was born when it struck me, several years into parenthood, that life was moving far too fast and, IMG_4073more to the point, I was infinitely incapable of holding on to all I wanted to remember about their childhoods. Writing the tales of my children’s lives and what I was learning from them was a way for me to retain their myriad stories, to stop time, in a sense, and in so doing leave behind something tangible that would show my children (and anyone else who cared to read) the limitless love I have for each of them.

A tall order, but it worked.

Life’s moments captured, immortalized, and remembered.

Frost is mostly correct, of course. Nothing gold can technically stay. But by recognizing and writing about the gold—the small and not-so-small moments that weave a life—I can at least preserve it.

And in that way the gold can stay.

Fourteen Years, Then France

IMG_2947To spend ten consecutive days with him is something I never dared dream.

To spend ten consecutive days with him in France is nothing I could have ever conceived.

He was a toddler when he walked into our lives and our hearts fourteen years ago. And when he left nine months later, we knew we would never be the same.

He was our foster son; and each day he was with us, every move we made, every thought we had was for him. We held his hand as he negotiated our city’s streets, read to him every night stories about the world we live in, narrated to him all he heard and saw. We loved him and watched him grow and learn.

And when he left we didn’t know when or even if we would ever see him again. Our plan was to try to find him when he was eighteen; and, if he consented, we would tell him who we were, share stories and photos of his time with us.

But he beat us to it.

On a July morning last summer, I rose to a still-sleeping house and made my way downstairs. I poured a large glass of orange juice and turned on my computer to check my email. And there in the subject line the name I had carried with me every day since that cold November day in 2000 when we first met.

Sixteen years old and living a mere 42 minutes away.

And so soon we met. Again.

It was alternately effortless and all-consuming, a beginning and a natural continuation.

We shared conversations and connections. The topic of travel came up.

I mentioned I was planning a trip to France. I told him if he wanted to go, we could figure out a way to make that happen.

He did. And we did.

First passport, first flights, first everything.

Paris, Arles, Nice.

And I once again and fourteen years later had a front-row seat . . . observant and awestruck, wondering if words existed to capture any of this and finally realizing they really don’t.

But perfect moments do.

Whether on a too-cold November night in 2000, at a computer on an early morning in July, or on a boat moving dreamily along the Seine.

They come when they come.

And when they do, nothing is–thankfully–ever the same.

What Are We Waiting For?

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2002

She had a smile that entered the room long before she did and a heart that knew no limits. My husband’s aunt, who, by the time I became a member of the family, lived hundreds of miles away, was always someone I knew of. Declining health prevented her from meeting our youngest son, her one visit with our older two a mere few hours.

I had only spent a short time in her physical company, but the idea of Irene has always been profound; and her passing last week has left a palpable void and reminded me of something I thought I already knew.

If I had to guess, I don’t think Irene understood the impact she had on me. And that wouldn’t be her fault. It would be mine. Because I never told her. I never picked up the phone and called her, never wrote her a letter. I sent photos of the children, always made sure I sent a Christmas card; but beyond that I was remiss.

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2007

I never told her how beautiful I thought she was, how incredibly brave, how the story of her life is the stuff of fiction. She lived many lifetimes in the one she was given, weathered losses that would have easily felled others. I never made an effort to be sure she knew her great-nephews despite geographical hurdles.

And just as resplendent flowers tend to arrive more prolifically after a person has died, the ardent words that would better have been spoken and written in life, suddenly appear with a vengeance: Obituaries overflow with positivity, letters of condolence seep with evocative praise. And the person who has left departed none the wiser.

So I’m left today wondering why: Why I did not stop the wheels of progress regularly to tell Irene what I thought–that she was kind and beautiful and brave? Why I let days turn to weeks and months, years and decades without a word, now having to join the legions who are compelled to relegate praise to sentences written in the past tense?

Why did I wait until today to tell the world about Irene? Why did I not do better when I clearly knew better?

Why do any of us?

 

 

 

Preparing for Battle

Mexican PhotoWell, August, it’s Thursday, 5 February 2015, and yesterday this little nugget of highbrow humor was meandering about the internet—on social media and the like. It might be an old picture. I can’t be sure. But yesterday was the first day I saw it.

You’re all of five years old. You don’t yet know how to read, and certainly you have no reason to see this photo. You’re too busy mastering your sight words, building with LEGO, and trying to negotiate a later bedtime. This is honestly the last thing you need.

But you are curious, incredibly astute, and all too soon you will see these sorts of things. And as a person of Mexican ancestry, how you will respond will be a decision you will need to make.

I am not of Mexican ancestry, but I can tell you that as your mother I am tired. I’m tired of seeing this sort of thing. I’m tired of the fact that people still produce this, that people still share it and laugh at it. I’m tired of being told it’s just a joke, that I need to learn how to take a joke. I’m tired of being told that humor and offense are inextricably linked. IMG_2330

And I’m angry, too. About all of the above, yes, but also because of the compulsion I feel to call this sort of thing out every single time I see it. I’m angry that I feel defensive and continually bound to state the obvious—that disparaging another human being’s ethnicity is ignorant, laughing at it is short-sighted if not cruel. At the very least it’s completely unnecessary.

But despite my exhaustion, my discontent, and my anger, I won’t stop. It’s not in me, and the motivation I have is the most powerful of all—the love I feel for you, the respect I have for you, what I hope to impart to you.

My words, my vitriol, my discontent—none of these have changed the world or stopped the flow of the tasteless, insensitive, or unkind. My efforts have not been successful in shielding you.

It is my hope, though, that they will fortify you so that when it’s your turn to fight, you will be ready.