Me: (sing-songie, keeping the mood light and cheerful) Thank you for asking, Hank. I appreciate your offer, but I’m all right. I rested all day so that I could show you I love you and your papa and Molly buy making this meal and sitting down at the table with you. I rested, calmed my soul and soothed my body best I could all day so I could do this and I am almost done so setting the table is exactly what you can do to help me. Thank you.
Hank: You’re welcome. And you are sure you are not eating?
Me: Yes. Food is not what I need right now. What I need is conversation, gentle laughs and a tall glass of water.
Hank: I will set your place with the tallest glass we have.
Me: (flipping the burgers) Sounds like a plan. Now, (raising my voice) who wants cheese, who wants a fried egg and who wants both?
Pai: (from the other room with Molly) Both!
Molly: OVO (EGG)!
Me: (adopting my best diner lingo) Right, one broken hen berry, one CB: walk it through the garden, one Bessie with a hen berry: sunny-side up, tuck it in a blanket, walk it through the garden. Got it.
Hank: Wait, what?
Pai: (smiling, remembering all our diner dates in America) Your mother is speaking American Diner.
Me: (winking at him) Get that table top set, Hank. ORDER is coming right up!
Hank: (to Pai) But what did she say?
Pai: She will explain it to you when the food is on the table.
Hank: (carrying plates and silver ware to the table) Hen berry? What’s a hen berry?
(after school sitting at a café with Hank and Molly)
Molly: (finished with her pastel de nata custard that she ate with a demitasse spoon, ignoring the flaky shell all together) Allllll done. Get down? Pleeeeeease.
Me: Sure, but be kind and don’t go outside.
Molly: Fora, não. (Not outside)
Molly:Tá bem (Okay). Tchau (bye)! (slowly slides off the chair until her toes touch the floor)
Me: Tchau, Amália (Bye, Molly).
Hank: (mouth full, eye brows raised, cautious)
Molly: (toddles off and picks a new table to sit at, says hello and pulls herself up into their empty chair)
Hank: (chokes down his bite of pastry, slams some water) I’ll go.
Hank: Because she… (notices that Molly is chatting with the ladies at the other table and is now being offered a bit of their toast)
Molly: (At the other table to the ladies) Não obrigada, tchau (No thank you, bye)! (toddles off the chair, ladies helping her and waving goodbye, delighted by her)
Hank: (nervous) Oh no, where is she going now?
Me: Does it matter if it isn’t outside?
Hank: I mean what if she…
Me: (holding up a hand to stop him) Molly is in a safe space. I can see her. You can see her. We have been coming to this café every school day since you were five. Most of these people are neighbors or friends of neighbors. If anyone has a problem with our little wanderer then we will be able to read their body language and we fetch her to give them space.
Molly: (chatting and introducing herself to other patrons, waving, wiggling and giggling)
Hank: (worried) But now she wants to climb on the ledge around the window.
Me: Naturally. That is the best spot in the café for climbing.
Hank: I will go over there.
Me: No, you won’t.
Molly: (toddler scales the ledge and starts pretending she is a cat and crawls atop the one and a half foot wide ledge that runs the length of the café’s plate glass window)
Hank: (whisper screams through clenched teeth) But that man is reading his news paper!
Molly: (to man reading his news paper) Olá, sou uma gatinha (Hello, I am a little cat). Miau, Miau. (meow, meow).
Man Reading the Paper: Olá gatinha muito linda (Hello, beautiful little cat). (returns to reading his paper with a smile on his face)
Me: You have got to give Molly wings. She needs to explore and push boundaries. (putting my hand on his tense back) We are right here. There are 25 other caregivers here ready to race over and help if we can’t get to her in time. This is one of my very favorite things about Portugal. Children are aloud to be children and everyone appreciates them or at the very least understands them and doesn’t expect them to have the temperament of an adult.
Molly: (lays down on the cool marble ledge) Go to sleep. (pops her head up suddenly, yells) Mama! I go to sleep. (puts her head back down, turned away from us, facing the window, starts snoring loudly)
Man Reading Newspaper: (unfazed, side smile, focused on the news and his coffee)
Me: Tá bem, filha. Dorme bem. (Okay, daughter. Sleep well.)
Hank: But what if she rolls off.
Me: What if she does?
Hank: Those chairs are too close and she will get all caught up and tangled and it will be scary for her.
Me: That could happen, but that might not happen. That is the worst case scenario, but what is more likely is that she will be fine, never falls and when she is done she comes back over to us and we head out on our way home. Why cause a tantrum? That is what would happen if you tried to have her sit at this table and not explore this amazing place while you finish your cake.
Molly: (head pops up, looking out the window) Olha, mama! Mano (Brother)! Olha! A butterfly!
Me: Fix, Amália! (Cool, Molly!)
Molly: (talking to the butterfly through the window) Butterfly, come on. Queres (want some) Cake? Olá! Come on! Anda cá (come here)!
Hank: (deep sigh, packs the last of his after school pastry into his mouth, bulging out his cheeks, crumbs stuck to his chin)
Me: You and your sister are very different people. That is a good thing. Never try and make anyone like you. Always give space for a person to truly be themselves in your life. I know your worry is love. This will help our Molly in the future if you share your fears kindly and without oppression. You will teach her balance and you can also learn a lot from her if you keep an open mind and heart and are willing to listen. I have learned so much from you. You and I are very different people and you are one of my greatest teachers.
Molly: (intentionally tumbles down from the ledge with the grace of a fat bear cub, lands on her feet, finds her balance, toddler-runs over to us, curls bouncing) Mama, go outside? Mano (brother)? Outside butterflies! (pointing with her chubby little fingers to the outdoor seating area of the café which is empty because of rains earlier)
Me: (collecting my purse) One moment, Amália. I have to buy bread and pay our bill.
Hank: I will take her outside while you pay and then you can meet us. We will stay by the butterflies and I won’t let her go by the road.
Me: Good plan.
Hank: You have to stay with me and hold my hand, Amália. Those are my rules.
Molly: (grabs her brother’s hand and pulls him to the door) Come on, Mano (brother)! Come on!
Me: (beaming at them through the café window while standing in line, Hank gets on her level, gently explaining butterflies, reminding Molly to be gentle and not to touch, Molly screaming at the butterflies so happy to learn from her big brother that they are drinking raindrops off the leaves and petals of the shrubs and flowers planted by the café, all the while never letting go of each other’s hand)
Hank: (deep sigh) Quinta-Feira (Thursday) is the best day ever of summer.
Me: Why’s that?
Hank: It’s Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day).
Me: I always neglect to remember this day…
Molly: (trying to wiggle out of her socks I just struggled to put them on)
Me: Because we don’t have a Children’s Day in America. We only have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Hank: It’s a great day to be a kid and at school we always have something special for lunch.
Me: (full of mischief) Like squid?
Hank: Ew, mom! You know I hate when we have squid at lunch! That is my least favorite day of the week! That and when we have Sardines (full fish with heads and bones). No, we get to eat something like frango asado (charcoal grilled chicken) or bolo de carne (bread baked with meat and cheese).
Me: Someday you will love fish and seafood and my life will be far more expensive.
Hank: I can’t imagine it.
Molly: Quero (I want) go to sleep!
Hank: Molly is not a morning person.
Me: (wrestling her into a light sweater) Never truer words were spoken. I am always confused? Am I supposed to buy you a present on Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day)? What is the protocol?
Hank: (sincere) I don’t need a present. You are my present.
Me: (flattered, blushing) Charmer. You are so charming. It is my greatest wish that whoever wins your precious heart deserves you. Now, seriously…
Hank: I am serious.
Me: Buddy, listen. I don’t understand Children’s Day. This is 100% a first world immigrant problem. Do you friends get presents on Children’s Day?
Hank: I don’t know?
Me: Can you ask them? I need to know if I am not participating in a national tradition that you will someday lament about over beers and plates and plates of mariscos (seafood) when you are 25. (adopting the nonchalance of a 25 year old) “OH man, mom, I mean, Like, life was great, don’t get me wrong, THE BEST, but like, little things were always different, like, on Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day) Amália and I got like nothing when like allllll the other kids got presents or McDonalds. Kids would like always ask me what I got and I would always tell them, “love,” but like they didn’t get it because kids suck at openhearted empathic connection. That is why I started my not-for-profit foundation yoga initiative, Teach Kids Not To Suck.”
Hank: MOM! Seriously?
Me: What? Did my imagination go too far? (reaching for the comb and hair-bow bucket)
Molly: HULK BOW! HULK BOW! HUUUULLLKKKK BOW, MAMA.
Me: You can holler all you want, but requests are denied without respect, MaGoo.
Hank: What do you say, Amália Sofia Hanford Pereira?
Molly: Please, mama?
Me: That is better, thank you. (fishing out the Incredible Hulk Bow)
Pai: We ready to roll?
Me: Was there Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day) when you were a kid, Alfredo?
Me: And did you get presents?
Me: That doesn’t help me. Ask your colleagues, please.
Pai: Ask them what?
Me: Ask them if they get their kids gifts for Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day)!
Hank: (donning his backpack) Because mama is having a self-conscience immigrant moment.
Hank: I am serious, mom. Molly and I don’t need a thing for Dia das Crianças (Children’s day). We already have the best parents in the world. You are our gift.
Pai: And we can get a pizza. What day is it? Quarta-Feira (Wednesday)?
Hank: Quinta-Feira (Thursday).
Pai: Tá bem (okay). It’s settled.
Hank: Mom, ask your friends if you really want to know, but I don’t want a present. I’m fine with you and you are my present everyday.
Molly: Quero (I want) present. Present, for me? For me! Um hum? (doe eyed, nodding, curls bouncing) Yah!
Me: (wrapping my kids up in my arms for a gentle hug) You are too sweet for me to be upset that you are being rather unhelpful.
Pai: You don’t always get the help you want in this family, but you always get the help you need.