Magic, Post and Pai Natal (Santa Claus)

"Magic doesn't just happen YOU make it happen." A page from my book Shoe Mice. Illustrated by Nervo.

“Magic doesn’t just happen YOU make it happen.” A page from my book Shoe Mice. Illustrated by Nervo.


(Hank, Pai and I are sat at the table for a late dinner. Molly, who ate much earlier, is sat at the table with a doll house and singing to herself while she decorates each room)

Molly: (singing to the tune of jingle bells) Pai Natal, Pai Natal, Natal, Natal, Natal (Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.)

Me: This is the year.

Pai: Yup.

Hank: This is what year?

Me: This is the year Molly will understand and be excited for Christmas.

Pai: The last two years she was too small.

Hank: Oh. (pause)

Me: We have to decide what we are going to do this year about Pai Natal (Santa Claus). Pai (dad) is against Pai Natal (Santa Claus) coming to our house.

Pai: I do not want Pai Natal (Santa Claus) to enter our home. I like to make Christmas. I don’t like anyone else doing it for me.

Me: Which is what led to me writing the letter to Pai Natal (Santa Claus) asking him not to come here when you were born.

Hank: So you already wrote the letter for Molly?

Me: Nope. We needed to have a family meeting about this. Do we want the same for Molly? Are we three happy to make the magic for her?

Pai: You know how I feel.

Hank: Some kids don’t want to believe and magic is only real as long as you believe it is real. Pai Natal (Santa Claus) is magic and if you don’t believe he isn’t real.

Me: What do you believe?

Hank: I believe in magic. I also believe that you make magic.

Me: (nodding, happy that my lectures over the years have stuck)

Hank: I don’t think Pai Natal (Santa Claus) should come to our house. We should write him the letter saying “no, thank you.”

Molly: (singing, focus still on adding more and more teeny-tiny milk bottles to her tiny refrigerator) Please, No Thank You. Please, No Thank You. Please, Please, Please, Please, No Thank You.

Hank: But how do you even get a letter to Pai Natal? Through our fairy door?

Me: I am sure Paige Portensia Xanthro Sprigh is far too busy with teeth collection to handle a message to the North Pole. No, we send a letter through the post office.

Hank: The actual Post Office?

Pai: The Post Office takes letters to Pai Natal (Santa Claus) very seriously.

Hank: Seriously?

Me: Seriously. We will use the beautiful stationary that papa bought me in Vienna and I will write to Pai Natal (Santa Claus) this weekend asking him to officially exclude Molly from his deliveries.

Hank: But how does the Post Office know where to send the letter?

Me: Easy, we use his address.

Hank: Pai Natal (Santa Clause) has an address?

Me: Sure. Pai Natal, Pole Norte. (Santa Clause, North Pole).

Hank: And it gets to him?

Me: The mail is always delivered.

Hank: How?

Me: Well, I don’t know, maybe we should ask our friend, Anna, in Lapland.

Pai: Good idea. She would know.

Hank: In Finland?

Me: Yes. Anna lives in Lapland, the very edge of the human world. The last human outpost before the North Pole. Maybe she will know how the post is handled.

Pai: Maybe.

Hank: It is hard giving Pai Natal (Santa Claus) to other children who really need him. Teachers and neighbors don’t understand. I will help Molly with that part.

Me: OH the stress and drama we endured every year! You were beside yourself with worry that Pai Natal (Santa Claus) would get confused and bring you a present anyway. It was a nightmare for your poor nerves and mine!

Hank: I know now that wouldn’t have happened.

Me: (raised eyebrow)

Pai: You do?

Hank: Yes, you two made the magic. O Espírito de Natal (The spirit of Christmas) is made by parents. 

Pai: In our house.

Hank: In every house.

Me: (nodding, because no one ever called him dumb, not one day, and suddenly, although he was born yesterday, Hank is nine and he gets it)

Pai: (making eye contact with Hank, acknowledging that we know he knows what he knows we know)

Hank: I don’t mind. I like it this way.

Me: And this year the magic will be made by three and it will be extra special.

Hank: I’m excited to make magic for my sister.

Pai: (winking at me) You learned from the best!


A Tourist

conversations with hank


Hank: Something weird happened today.

Me: Oh yah?

Hank: More than one person told me I looked like a tourist.

Pai: What?

Hank: The guy behind the balcão (counter) at swimming school and then another kid at school.

Me: (naive) Why would you look like a tourist?

Hank: I don’t know. I loved my outfit today.

Me: You looked great.

Pai: I know why.



Pai: Because apparently Hank is too blonde and pale to be Portuguese.

Hank: Oh. (nodding) Yup, that’s it. The kids at school are always commenting on my skin. They hold their arms up to mine and they’re all like, “Why are you so white? Do you ever go to the beach?”

Me: Really?

Pai: And what do you say?

Hank: Oh, I don’t let it bother me. I say, “Of course I go to the beach. I go to the beach here Annnnnnnd I go to the beach in Algarve.

Me: Ooooooh, fancy.

Hank: I know that is a little bragging, but it is true. I love the beach it is just my skin doesn’t tan. I’m like mama.

Me: Our freckles inch slightly closer together. That is all.

Hank: But Molly tans. She is already so tan! She is like papa. Kids at school won’t make fun of her.

Me: (feeling the sting of what was behind that statement)

Pai: (real serious) It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. A certain kind of person always focus on the differences between them and you. It is wrong. It has to change. An adult calling you a tourist is minor but it is still marginalization and I never, ever want to hear you making someone feel less than welcome in your world. Even if you’re joking. Even if you don’t mean any harm. Never focus on the obvious focus on the person. If the obvious is all you see than you will never know the world. You are Portuguese. You are not a tourist.

Hank: That is what I said. I said, “you know I am not a tourist,” and he laughed.

Me: You are Luzo-Americano (Portuguese-American). You are culturally Portuguese because you live here, but you also have a bit of American cultural influence because you live with me and I am your mama. You are a two-culture kid.

Hank: Maybe it’s because I wore my summer hat today?

Pai: No, Hank. Don’t make this about you. It’s because to that man you looked like the obviously not Portuguese Northern European, Scandinavian and American tourists that flood Guimarães every summer and he put you in that box. It had nothing to do with what you were wearing. Never make a closed minded comment about you. It’s not about you. He didn’t even think what he said could make you feel anything at all.

Hank: As soon as he said it I felt weird. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but it made me feel strange.

Pai: Exactly. Strange. A stranger. An outsider. Not from here. Not normal. I would like you to do your best in life to never make anyone feel that way. What he said he felt was harmless, but it was ignorant and careless.

Hank: But People are always asking mama where she is from, too.

Me: Yes, because I am obviously foreign so they are curious, but there also are some people annoyed or put off by me because I am not Portuguese. You don’t encounter it as much but it is there and I don’t take those people personally. I do not associate with closed minded people. I only associate with kind people. There is no fitting in for me. I plan on living in Portugal for the rest of my life but will always be estrangeira (foreign).

Pai: But you aren’t, Hank.

Hank: Aren’t I?

Pai: No.

Hank: But to other people, aren’t I? If I am half of mama, aren’t I also estrangeiro (foreign)? And I was born in America.

Me: Yes, but you have always lived here.

Hank: Yes, but…

Pai: (shaking his head) It shouldn’t be that way.

Me: (walking away because what do you say? It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. )


Hearing About Manchester

A photo of Molly watering our veranda plants to soften the blow of the conversation below.

A photo of Molly watering our veranda plants to soften the blow of the conversation below.


Me: (writing emails early this morning)

Hank: Hi mama.

Me: Hi Hank.

Hank: Whatcha doin’?

Me: (with the tone of someone off to the dentist for a root canal) Writing emails.

Hank: To who?

Me: You mean to whom? If you would say he or she you would use who. If you mean him or her you use the word whom. Unless it is formal and the recipient is undeclaired then it is whom.

Hank: English is hard.

Me: Truth.

Hank: So yah…

Me: To whom are you writing emails?

Hank: Sure. That.

Me: I am writing an elevator pitch to a literary agent.

Hank: What is a… Huh? I have too many questions about that one sentence.

Me: A literary agent sells books. A literary agent is a person who works for a writer and represents them to publishers as well as other agencies that would like to buy the rights to use a writer’s work. An elevator pitch is a phrase used to describe why you would buy, invest, support something said in the briefest and most direct language possible in the length of time it takes you to enter and exit an elevator.

Hank: So you have to read this email in an elevator?

Me: (grinning) The elevator part is metaphorical. It represents the length of time you have to sell your idea or in this case my latest book project.

Hank: Ooooooooookay. I understand. Wait, that must be hard for you. You talk a lot.

Me: (raised eyebrow)


Me: (loudly slurp coffee, eyebrow still raised)

Hank: I mean in a good way. It takes you time to tell your whole ideas. This is why you are a good writer.

Me: Nice save.

Hank: (relieved) Thanks. I was worried. You know what I mean though.

Me: I do. Trust me. I hate these query emails. I hate writing press releases for the blog. I hate promotion. I feel so slimy. Like I am standing in front of a group of people I respect and shouting, “Hey! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! Aren’t I great? I am soooooo great. Oh, you think I’m great? (death metal growl) GOOD THEN PAY ME.”

Hank: (giggling)

Me: But I have to start using my creative writing to pay me more so I can freelance less or else the blog and my book projects have become very expensive hobbies that I can’t continue to devote so much time to.

(news on in the background announcing a bombing at a concert in Manchester. 22 dead including children, 50+ injured)

Me: (shock, horror) My god.

Hank: Where is Manchester? Is it in London?

Me: No, it is in the north of England.

Pai: (stopping to listen)

(News: Pop singer Ariana Grande concert…)

Pai: Children and Teens are terrifying to some people. They represent the future where their ideas will no longer be powerful. They are taught to love and accept all people and that education is the real power not fear. That makes them a target.

Hank: Children were there at night? This happened at 10:30pm, right? Why were there children there?

Me: (large lump in my throat) A child is any person under the age of thirteen.

Pai: They were your age, Hank.

Me: That could have been you.

Pai: And you, Joy. I would have bailed rather than sitting through a pop concert.

Me: More likely Hank, you and one of your Tias or Primas (aunts or cousins).

Hank: (devastated)

Pai: It would be like walking into school and the majority of your class wouldn’t be there today.






Hank: This feels normal. This feeling I have. This feeling is becoming normal now.

Me: That is what the sick and sad people of the world want.

Pai: They want you to be afraid and angry.

Hank: I am not afraid or angry. I am so sad that there are no word and no tears. I can’t even cry. I just want to find a person who is thinking about hurting people this way and be their friend and love them enough that they know they don’t need to hurt people.

Me: (nodding, rubbing Hank’s back) Hurt people hurt people.

Hank: I just want to love people.

Pai: That is probably the right answer, Hank.

Me: We need reconciliation.

Hank: What does that mean?

Me: It means the restoration of friendship.

Hank: That is exactly what the world needs.

Me: It starts with us.

Hank: (nodding, numb)