The True Value of a Gift

conversations with hank


Hank: (coming to the dinner table with a new-to-him camera around his neck)

Pai: Filho (son), I love your enthusiasm, but you are absolutely not allowed to eat dinner with your camera around your neck.

Hank: Oh, I won’t! I’m still shook. I seriously can’t believe this day was real. Did you know, mom?

Me: I had no idea. I knew Alice was stopping by because she had brought me a few things from The States, but the camera was an amazing surprise.

Pai: You will have to fill me in, because I was not in the room and then I had to leave for a meeting.

Hank: I was walking around with Manny (Alice’s one year old toddler) in the hallway and I came back in the living room and mom was already crying.

Me: I cannot help it! My happiness is tied to my tear ducts.

Pai: We know; it’s genetic.

Me: When Hank and Manny left the room Alice digs into her bag and says, “Oh yah, I wanted to ask you if it was fine before I offered, but I got a new camer and I wanted to give this one to Hank if it’s okay,” and she pulls out…

Hank: THIS! (holding up the camera still around his neck)

Me: And I just bumble and nod and obviously start crying and then…

Hank: I walk in the room and Alice says some very nice things about the photos I take and hands me the camera and asks if I want it and I just, I don’t even remember what I said…

Me: Besides, “thank you.”

Hank: I mean, of course I said thank you a lot, but I was just shook, completely shook. I still am.

Pai: Instead of being shook be honored that someone believes in supporting your talent and interests.

Me: What a special day.

Hank: I will never forget this day! It’s like when the woman from Crayola

Me: (beaming) Julie.

Hank: Yes, It’s like when Julie sent our Robin’s Egg Blue crayons and then all those other art supplies. I feel like that day. I feel special.

Pai: It is the same gesture.

Me: When you give someone the tools to further pursue a passion it is a gift for both people, the giver and the receiver.

Hank: I mean this camera, I looked up what it cost, new and used…

Me: OP-BAH-BAP-BAP BAP-Bup! (shaking my head no)

Pai: Don’t do that, Hank. The value of a gift is not in its intrinsic value, what it costs or is worth, but in the reward of what you can do with that gift or how it makes you feel. Alice invested in you and proved she believes in you. She gave you a tool to help you take your interest in photography forward. Now it is up to you to use that tool.

Hank: Mom already downloaded the users manual and I am researching getting a camera case and I am going to spend my whole school holiday taking pictures.

Pai: Smart.

Me: Her gift will only be honored if you use it and every picture you take and share with her she will be a tiny bit apart of that. That is how you can give back.

Pai: That and writing an American thank you note and offering to babysit when you’re thirteen.

Hank: OH, she and Filipe can count on that and farm chores if they need! They will have to teach me how to do the farm chores and I will do my best to ignore spiders, but, I mean, I would have done all of those things anyway.

Me: We know.

Pai: I think she knows that, too. Now take that camera off your neck so we can eat. Amália Sofia?

Molly: Sim, pai (yes, dad)?

Me: Dinner.

Molly: I coming. (walking over to the table and struggling to climbing into an standard dining chair because she refuses to use a “baby chair” anymore, once settled placing an arm on her brother’s shoulder) How your day, mano (brother)?

Hank: Mana (sister), I had the best day!

Molly: Me, too! (wrapping her arms around his neck)

Hank: Awe, I love you, mana (sister).

Molly: I love you too, mano (brother).

Me: (instantly sobbing)

Pai: Round two!

Hank: Oh, mom!

Me: I can’t help it! It is genetic! My happiness is tied to my tear ducts!

Molly: (to Hank) She happy? She happy, mano (brother)? Happy crying?

Hank: Yes, mana (sister). Don’t worry.

Me: (face in my napkin, just a weepy mess of awesome, grateful love)





(Pai and I in the kitchen preparing dinner)

Pai: So how was your meeting in Porto?

Me: Really great. It was so nice to connect with another writer working the system, climbing the publishing ladder. I really enjoyed her insights. We work very differently and in different genres.

Pai: Which isn’t a bad thing?

Me: Not at all. I think there are unique elements we can learn from each other and ideas and projects we can pass off to one another.

Pai: Which genre is her work?

Me: YA.

Pai: Why what?

Me: YA… Young Adult.

Pai: Argh, you Americans and your acronyms. It’s like you‘re all in the army all the time.

Me: (giggles) A book is YA when the protagonist is between the ages of 13-18. It doesn’t mean the book is specifically for teens, but that it deals with the struggles and adventures of youth.

Pai: Such as sparkly vampires would be YA even though it felt like everyone every age read that book?

Me: Exactly. What I love about YA is that you have none of the patriarchal nonsense of Adult Fiction.

Pai: Right, the Chick-Lit dilemma.

Me: (sarcastically overly serious) Um, excuse me, in the interest of being more inclusive and less debasing the term is actually Women’s Fiction.

Pai: (oozing with facetiousness) My humble apology, authoress.

Me: Listen, genres are incredibly important! When you pitch your book you toss your plea onto a specific slush pile; get that pile wrong and…

Pai: You don’t get past the gatekeeper.

Me: (nodding) You must KNOW THY WORK! I write contemporary fiction, BUT my work thus far has a female protagonist and is written with a female voice, therefore according to mainstream publishing should be marked to a female audience so my work is considered Women’s Fiction, but there is no Men’s Fiction genre. Anything written with a male perspective without Sci-Fi, Fantasy, dystopian or elements a historical timeframe is simply Contemporary Fiction.

Pai: So because you’re a woman and wrote a book about a woman that is why you have this specific genre.

Me: Not because I am a woman women’s fiction is fuzzy and nuanced.  Nicholas Sparks writes Women’s Fiction, but some people consider his work more Romance. Paulo Coelho is marketed within Women’s Fiction.

Pai: And Fifty Shades of Gray is Romance?

Me: No, Fifty Shades of Gray is Erotic Romance or Erotica.

Pai: What’s the difference between Romance and Erotica?

Me: Writing where the sexual content’s objective is to stimulate or arouse the reader is Erotica and Romance is writing where sex and courtship exist and are a part of the plot, but are written in more of a Hollywood-movie-montage vibe. Erotic Romance is a blend of both and was a term developed to help market some books out of the Harlequin Fabio- cover-modeled mass-marketed paperback trap and into a higher price point.

Pai: But doesn’t your book contain sex?

Me: Yes, but the plot isn’t driven by sex. My books employ a “self discovery” narrative so they fall into Contemporary Fiction, but because of all the aforementioned malarkey I will more likely get noticed if I toss them into Women’s Fiction slush (mimicking gagging because I deeply resent this genre trap).

Pai: So it is all about the amount of sex?

Me: No, well maybe, kinda, genre’s are a tangled web…

Hank: (sitting across the hall at the dinning room table) ARGH! YOU GUYS! YOU KNOW I CAN HEAR YOU. I am right here. I can hear everything.

(Pai and I lean to the left to be in full view of the doorway)

Pai: So?

Me: What is wrong with our conversation? We’re talking about publishing.

Hank: You’re talking about sex.

Pai: Our conversation isn’t inappropriate and besides you’re ten.

Hank: I just… I don’t know. I guess… I mean, it isn’t, but I just…

Me: Just because you have zero interest in sex doesn’t mean it isn’t a major part of life for a lot of adults.

Hank: Oh, I know! Sex is everywhere. I guess, I mean, I get it, but I just sooooo don’t care and I am like STAWP TALKING all the time about it people! Like, on TV and songs and teenagers, all they talk about is sex and I just do not care. Like, there are more interesting things, you know?

Me: Word.

Pai: But we aren’t talking about sex acts. We’re discussing how sex within the context of publishing leads to being separated, categorized and marginalized. This conversation is rather interesting.

Me: If sex never becomes interesting to you that is cool, but if it does know you can always talk to us about what you find attractive, but until just don’t engage.

Hank: I just don’t care.

Pai: Good, as I said you are ten. Sex is a part of adulthood and never anything to be ashamed of as long as sex is respectful and consensual.

Hank: I know, I know! I just don’t care!

Me: Then, my darling boy, employ the same methods I used when you were obsessed with Minecraft: just don’t listen and don’t engage! Change the subject or if you are distracted by a conversation you are not a part of…

Pai: Like now for instance.

Me: Simply turn your attention elsewhere. Apply your headphones, politely close a door or move to a less distracting area.

Pai: Okay?

Hank: Sure. Yes. Can you please close the kitchen door so I can study and be less distracted?

Me: Our pleasure. Thank you for telling us we were disturbing your work.

Hank: (nodding, focus back on his books) Thanks.

Me: (closing the kitchen door) So, what were we talking about again?

Pai: Publishing, I think?

Me: (sigh) Right, anyway…



His Best

Last year our dear friends moved to Ireland. We're so happy and proud of them, but we also miss them every single day.

Last year our dear friends moved to Ireland. We’re so happy and proud of them, but we also miss them every single day and they are never far from our thoughts.


Me: (standing in our front doorway waiting for the elevator to arrive)

Hank: (exiting, home from school) MOM!

Me: Hey! How was your day, Hank?

Hank: I got a 76 on my math exam.

Me: YO! That is 30 points higher than your last math exam.

Hank: I KNOW! I got a Bom (B).

Me: Parabéns! (Congradulations!)

Hank: Yah, I couldn’t believe it. I was convinced I did so bad.

Me: That is your lying, irrational brain messing with you.

Hank: My teacher was like, “What do you think your grade is?  Guess!” And I couldn’t guess.  I couldn’t say anything and I was just so shocked.

Me: She’s proud of you.

Hank: Ever since talking to my math teacher about how I want to do better and all the work I have been doing I have so many more idea on what to practice and study.

Me: You are making such good choices. I am really proud of you.

Hank: If I work at it ever day it is much easier than, like, all together all at once.

Me: Good point! 30 minutes here; 20 minutes there. It all adds up.

Hank: Exactly. I was thinking, if Euclides (16 year old family friend) could move to Ireland and go to school in English, which would be the same as if I went to America and went to school. I mean, I can speak English and read it but writing and math… I don’t know that stuff, you know? All of that is in my brain in Portuguese. Anyway, I was thinking if Euclides could just change in school and go from his Portuguese grades of suficiente (low C’s) to muito bom (A’s) like to the point where we were all like, “WOW, what happened? Did you open your brain and get a new one!”  I was thinking, like, I’m going to try and do better too. I’m going to see if I can do that.

Me: I am so proud of him! Euclides made the decision to do better. We all knew he had it in him, but he had to make the choice to apply himself.

Hank: I miss them all so much. I am happy for them, but I miss them at the same time.

Me: Me, too. I am so glad Euclides inspired you! Friends are the best.

Hank: (sigh) I get it now. This feeling. I feel proud, but it isn’t easy and it feels impossible when I think about working like this for like years and years.

Me: Feels like forever.

Hank: Right!

Me: It gets easier! Take studying one day at a time. Keep up this habit of study and you will get used to doing your best and therefore won’t settle for less. You deserve your best and as long as you do your best your best is enough. Regardless of grades or rewards personal satisfaction is the best gift you can give yourself.

Hank: Right?! I get it now. (sigh) Anyway. I’m going to take 30 minutes to myself and then get my homework done then read my book for 30 minutes. Does that sound good?

Me: (proud) Sounds like a plan.