The Worrier and the Wanderer

Photo by HJH Pereira (aka Hank)

Photo by HJH Pereira (aka Hank)


(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)

Me: Correct.

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.

Me: Why?

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.

Molly: (impatient) Outside! Fora, mano! (Outside, brother)! Pleeeeeaaaasse?! (wiggle bounce)

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)