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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!

Article

A Thunderous Thursday

conversations with hank

Molly showing me her “tomatoes”

 

Hank: Oh mama! Those roses are beautiful!

Me: Oh, but Hank, smell them!

Hank: (drinking in their sweetness) Wow. Now they are even more beautiful!

Me: I adore my dumpster roses. Your papa came home from the Horta Pedagógica (community gardens) one night with a bunch of sticks wrapped in newspaper and said our neighbor stopped him and told him she had far too many roses and if he was interested she had thrown away a garden full and all he had to do was push those sticks into some soil and by the following year he’d have roses.

Hank: But you didn’t believe him. I remember.

Me: I had never grown roses before. I didn’t imagine it could be easy.

Hank: And so papa put the sticks in the ground.

Me: And I learned that even roses from the dumpster can bloom. I am sad I had to go and pick these but there is rain coming and these blooms would get spoiled.

Molly: (toddling into the kitchen) Quero (I want to) see.

Hank: (taking the largest rose to her to smell)

Molly: (breathing it in) Yummy. Mama, quero cerejas (I want cherries), pleeeeeeease.

Me: (plopping the roses into a vase) Sure. There is no better breakfast than a cherry breakfast. (lifting her up on the counter to sit next to a gigantic bowl of cherries that was full the night before)

Molly: Me do it.

Me: You have to be careful. Cherries have a stone inside. Don’t eat the stone. (vigilant)

Molly: Ta bem (okay). Look, look mama! (holding up a cherry) A tomato. (giggling and wiggling at her obvious joke) Yummmmmmy tomato!

Me: (tossing my head way back and praising her with a chuckle) A tomato, you are so funny.

Molly: (nodding, pleased as punch) I funny. (biting the cherry in half and handing it to me to take out the stone while selecting another one) Looook mama! Ah, ah, uh, uh strawbury! (tossing her head back, mimicking me, laughing)

Me: A strawberry? HA! (bending at the waist, rolling with laughter) Oh, that is funny. You’re so funny, MaGoo.

Molly: (nodding, beaming) I funny.

(roll of thunder)

Molly: What’s that? What’s that, mama?

Me: What do you think that is?

Molly: Ah, ah, ah, uh, ummmmmmm…. A dragon!

Hank: Guimarães is full of sleeping dragons, Amália.

Molly: (her finger to her lips) Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, dragon sleeping.

(another roll of thunder)

Molly: Ah, ah, uh, umm… Dragon hungry! Mama, Dragon hungry. (nodding, serious)

Me: That was the dragon’s empty belly rumbling?

Molly: SIM (Yes)! Dragon? Dra-gon!? Queres Cerejas (Want some cherries)?

Hank: Amália, dragons eat really specific foods. Are cherries on the list, mama? Remember the list of dragon foods?

Me: I know that list by heart! I have been feeding dragons since I was your age and I am a rather old woman.

Hank: (nodding then abruptly stops nodding when he realizes his nodding is saying he agrees I am old) You’re not old. You’re mama aged.

Me: (giggling) What day is it?

Hank: Um…

Me: (pre-coffee haze) Is it Thursday?

Hank: Yes, yesterday was (my) chemo day* so it was Wednesday.

Me: And there is thunder?

Molly: Dragons!

Me: Then the fates have aligned! Dragons only eat cherries in the spring on thunderous Thursdays.

Hank: (gasp) We need to tell Alice. She has a cherry tree!

Me: Don’t fret. They harvested their cherries yesterday. All the best farmers know about the dangers of a thunderous Thursday.

Hank: (smiling because he is on the cusp between still believing in magic and wanting to be the maker of magic) Amália?

Molly: (having forgotten all about us, cherry stained fingers and stuffed cheeks)

Hank: Dragons are our friends. They will come here, eat these cherries and grant you wishes and bring you luck.

Molly: No mano (brother)! NO! My cerejas (cherries)!

Me: Oh MaGoo. We have cherries to spare and I promise if today the dragons come and eat all of your cherries I will buy you more.

Hank: It is important you share!

Molly: Dragons! Ah, Ah, ah… No cherries. Tomatoes! Holding up a cherry. Tomato no cherries.

Hank: (whispering to me) Will that work?

Me: (whispering back) You can’t blame a girl for trying!

*I take a low dose oral chemotherapy for my Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis every Wednesday.  Hank is a worrier and every Wednesday evening has an alarm on his and my phone to remind us that I need to take my medicine.  Wednesdays have been dubbed chemo day.

 

Article

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.

Hank:

Me:

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. )