After dinner Hank and I drew out his dream pizza to try this weekend.
Me: (sliding our homemade pizza into the oven for dinner)
Hank: When I am an adult I am going to also perfect my dream pizza and make it once a week.
Me: There is nothing better than homemade pizza, except Neapolitan pizza. Nothing is better than Neapolitan pizza.
Hank: My dream pizza would be a hamburger pizza. It is my own design. I would have pizza masa (dough) then sauce, then I would put hamburger buns in the corners and in between I would have bacon strips then I would cover it with cheese. OR I would put the cheese first and after the buns and then I would put the bacon strips just at the crusts and then I would put onion cut into rings and in the center of the pizza I would have a hamburger.
Me: Like on a bun with the whole garden, ketchup and mustard or just the meat?
Hank: Just the meat.
Me: What about ketchup and mustard?
Hank: No way.
Me: We’re going to have to write this one down.
Hank: OH! CAN WE MAKE IT THIS WEEKEND?
Me: I don’t see why not. Unless, you want to wait until you’re an adult.
Hank: This recipe is only an idea. It needs to be tested and perfected.
Me: (nodding, pleased) I can see you opening a restaurant and being a chef. You have amazing food ideas.
Hank: I don’t think it is possible for me to be a chef.
Me: Why not? Anything is possible.
Hank: I wouldn’t be able to handle it. You know how I am. Being a chef is so stressful and I don’t deal well with yelling and if a customer complains because their food is late I would just freak out.
Me: Just because you have a shy and sensitive personality now shouldn’t limit your future. Your future is made of limitless possibilities.
Hank: (suspect, a bit sarcastic) You see me as outgoing?
Me: I am not seeing you as anyone but who you are. You can be shy and brave. You can be reserved and be a chef. The best chefs are reclusive and aloof. And look at me. I used to be very shy.
Hank: NOPE, I don’t believe you.
Me: I was shy until one day I decided I wanted friends. When we moved to Indiana I was twelve and I knew that if I wanted friends I’d have to be less shy and talk more, since the kids at my new school had all been friends already for a long time, and twelve year old kids are less nice for some odd reason, I knew it was up to me. One night about the second week of school when I still was sitting alone in the cafeteria I went into the bathroom to have a good old chat with myself in the mirror.
Hank: (shocked) I do that, too! I talk to myself and act out stories and…
Me: Sing. I know. We live in an apartment not the Taj Mahal! I love your night time bathroom cabaret. All kids do it. It’s normal. So, when I was twelve, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Self, you’re going to have to go out there and talk out loud and make some friends.” And I haven’t stopped talking since. It’s like I was making up for lost time.
Hank: (giggles because it’s true that I talk a lot) But work in a kitchen? Kitchen’s are so much pressure and stress. I think I will be a home cook and choose another thing to be for my job. I don’t know what it is yet, but I am not brave like you.
Me: You know the difference between a brave person and everybody else?
Hank: A brave person is just as scared they just do it anyway.
Me: I wasn’t brave until the day I decided to be. When I decided to be brave I made friends and they were the best, brightest, most creative and imaginative kids in the whole school, but not everyone felt the same as me. We got made fun of a lot for our style, for not caring what other people thought, for knowing our true selves at twelve when our classmates only knew they wanted to fit in and be like each other. We loved to stand out and be different. When I was twelve, before the first class in the morning the whole school had to gather first in the large gymnasium and sit in tall stadium seats to wait for the bell to ring. I lived pretty near the school so our bus was one of the last to arrive and every day when I entered that gym the kids would boo and hiss and say mean things to me while I walked through that gym until I reached my friends who loved me and thought I was the absolute best. That was really when I learned to be brave. Every morning walking through that firing squad.
Hank: And the teachers let that happen?
Me: I was told by many, many teachers over the years that if I tried harder to fit in life would be easier for me, but the very best teachers told me I was magical and important and wise and creative just the way I was.
Hank: I would cry. I wouldn’t be able to handle that.
Me: I am not going to say that their poor opinion didn’t sting or that their words didn’t leave a bruise, but I had already decided I was brave so even though I felt sick to my stomach every single day of middle school and high school when I walked in the building I punched fear in the face and chose to be brave anyway. I didn’t need legions of friends! My friends were the greatest on the planet and loyal and so very important to me. You never need to be outgoing Hank, but you can never let your delicate sensibilities stunt you from doing what you really want. You can protect your special precious heart but never isolate yourself from what will make you happy because you think you can’t do something. Never let cruelty make you change course from your personal style or from being a kind hearted, empathic person. I tell you I never want you to change and that isn’t a lie. Evolving, growing and adapting are a part of life but those things don’t change who you are they only make you better and stronger and more lovable. Life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Don’t ever say you can’t do something. Can’t is very different from being uninterested. Can’t is a limitation. Don’t limit yourself.
Hank: (sigh) Being an adult feels so very far away.
Me: It is and it isn’t. When Alice mentioned that you could babysit baby Manny in three years I thought I was going to faint dead away from shock.
Me: Because in three years you will be twelve!!! TWELVE! A tween. A year away from being officially a teenager and that feels impossible, but at the same time just around the corner.
Hank: It does. I can’t believe I am going to a new school next year. I am not excited.
Me: Understandable. Change is as hard as you chose to make it.
Hank: (exasperated) You always say things like that! Like some things are my choice!
Me: Aren’t they? Somethings are your choice.
Hank: No. I didn’t choose to be afraid of spiders.
Me: Yes, you did.
Me: Hank, when you were little you were fascinated by spiders. Together we caught a million daddy long legs and you loved finding spider webs especially when they were wet with morning dew. And you were especially good at finding barking spiders all over the house.
Hank: (unamused) That means farts, right.
Me: (trying to not laugh at his un-amusement and stay stoic) Indeed, it does.
Hank: I don’t believe you. I think sometimes you just tell me things because that is how you want me to be and I’m not that way at all.
Me: Ouch. (sucking air in through my teeth) I hear you, but to be fair: I never lie to you. I am far to busy and important to lie. I don’t have time for that stuff and nonsense. (sincere) Hank, I don’t want you to be like me. The world doesn’t need another me. The world needs you. You are the only you that will ever be and that is important whether you are a chef or a robotosist or a kindergartener teacher or an auto mechanic. The key is to be you: be shy, be quietly creative, be introverted, be a shower singer, an actor in the bathroom mirror, a writer in your imagination and a free spirit within your own four walls and still make a lovely life for yourself in the great wild world by being brave enough to follow your dreams.
Hank: Right now, I don’t have a dream.
Me: And right now that is fine as long as I don’t hear you say you can’t do something in the future. You don’t know the future. Don’t be afraid to grow and evolve, be open to it. I personally can’t wait to meet adult Hank. It is my one goal in life to raise you so that when you are in your twenties I am excited to have a conversation with you and hear your opinions, stories of your adventures and also your tales of woe. Don’t set yourself limitations yet. Your world has a million and one possibilities, but only if you’re open to them.
Hank: (stomach loudly complaining of hunger) I’ll set the table.
Me: And I will stop ranting.
Hank: (turning back) No, don’t say that. That was a good talk… I was listening.
Dr. Blaha (Urban Family* member visiting from The U.S.): Ahhhhhh, good times.
Pai: (raising his glass) Cheers to that.
Me: (raising mine) Let’s make this the best two weeks visit ever!
(all three of us cheers to that)
Molly: O pai (Hey, dad)? (walking back to the table after refusing to eat and pulling an epic two year old struggle for power nigh on 30 minutes ago which ended in a stalemate and Molly being excused from the table)
Pai: Sim, filha (Yes, daughter)?
Molly: (wide doe eye, sweet voiced, endlessly cute almost whimper voice) Tems fome (I’m hungry).
Pai: Oh, you’re hungry? Well, would you like some beans? (gesturing to the table full of food and specifically our evening side dish of braised pinto and white beans with potatoes, onions, carrots and rosemary)
Molly: (eyes firmly on her papa, not breaking eye contact for a second) SIM! (holding on to the arm of his chair and bouncing)
Me: Bravo, Amália. We’re so happy you’ve decided to join us for dinner.
Dr. Blaha: The beans are so good. You will love them, Molly!
Pai: I will get you a plate.
Molly: BEANS! Sit down? (pointing to her high chair)
Pai: (proudly picking her up, kissing her cheek, putting her into the high chair and pulling her bib over her head) Claro (of course).
Molly: (wiggling with excitement) Beans. Yum, yum! (nodding)
Pai: (proud she finally wants to eat something other than yogurt and jello) Here you are. (puts a plate of braised beans in front of Molly)
Molly: (there is a pause, she shakes her head trying to etch a sketch erase the image in front of her, the excitement drains from her face, she literally deflates, she whimpers as if she’s been kicked by the invisible manifestation of the indignities of life, she dramatically folds her arms protectively over her chest and looks as far over her left shoulder as possible before saying in the most pathetic voice)
No, thank you.
Pai: But you asked for beans.
Molly: (doe eyed, looks up at her favorite person in the whole wide world) Not beans. BEANS.
Dr. Blaha: (curiously furled brow)
Pai: (eureka) OH! (chuckles) Oh no. Amália, did you want jelly beans for dinner?
Molly: (so relieved she is finally understood, nods while her chin begins to quiver and a single tear rims her eye ready to drop) Sim. Gelly Beans. Not beans. Gelly. Gelly beans, please papa? Not beans. (shaking her head no and looking dramatically away letting the tears fall freely)
Me: (practically hyperventilating hysterics into my dinner napkin)
Dr. Blaha: (sympathetic) Oh my, (giggling) that was a misunderstanding.
Hank: (from his video game) You can’t. She won. She’s not bossy she’s the boss, pai (dad).
Molly: (silently crying, tragically wounded expression of a martyr)
Pai: I can’t believe I am even considering this.
Me: This is the definition of a first world problem.
Pai: We never would have done this with Hank.
Dr. Blaha: Because you forget HANK ATE NOTHING.
Me: (gasp out loud, hand over my mouth remembering Hank barely surviving on avocado, sweet potato, milk, watermelon [Hank used to tantrum for watermelon when offered a cookie], bananas and the occasional Cheerio until the age of three) TRUTH!!!
Dr. Blaha: This wouldn’t have been a parenting dilemma for you guys the first time around.
Pai: (in defeat, walking into the kitchen) The things we do to have adult conversation!!!
Me: I’ll tell no one. This will be a secret between us five.
Pai: Don’t lie, you’re so putting this on the internet.
Dr. Blaha: NO! You have to put this on the internet.
Me: (eyebrow raised in gleeful compliance) Well, in that case….
Pai: (scattering a small handful of Brach’s Jelly Beans loving brought over from America on her high chair tray) So help me… This could only happen in this house, in this family, in our urban family!
Molly: (brightening up, posture straitened, wiping her tears on her sleeve realizing she has finally communicated clearly and her desires were being met) YAH!!!!!!! (clapping) GELLY BEANS!!!
Dr. Blaha: Man, I love our urban family*.
*Glossery of Hanford-Pereira Family Terms
Urban Family: A family member that is not blood related or related by marriage but a fully fledged member of your tribe, an aunt or uncle to your children, cemented by years and tears and laughter and often times PhD programs.