What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

images (52)



Hank: (deep discontented sigh)

Me: (having just been hosted for a coffee by our neighborhood friendly auto-parts store owner) Two cakes in one day! Lord, you’re a loved and lucky boy! Sr. Pereira is so kind.

Hank: He is and I like him, but… (sigh)

Me: But what?

Hank: Why are adults always asking me what I want to be when I grow up?  Or that when they were my age they were done with school and working? It’s like every time I want to yell, “I’m a kid! I don’t know what I want to do for a job! And I know… I know you were working when you were my age. I know already!”

Me: Wow. Okay. These are two separate and very important things, so lets break it down so that you can be more empathetic when someone tells you their story of leaving school after 4th grade.

Hank: That is how it was back then.

Me: For some.

Hank: What?

Me: Era uma vez (once upon a time) before the revolution (April 25, 1974) your education ended at the end of 4th grade unless your family could afford to educate you further. Think about that. It didn’t matter if you were smart, it didn’t matter if you loved learning with your whole heart, if you were poor you went to work and if you were wealthy you continued on. Can you imagine leaving school in a month and never going back?

Hank: (pause) No.

Me: Your Avó Dalia (grandmother) was devastated to leave school. Your Avô Alfredo (grandfather) went to apprentice to be a carpenter and Dalia worked in the fields, helped take care of your tias and tios (aunts and uncles), then she went and worked in factories. After the revolution one of the important policies that everyone fought for was education for all. The key word in that sentence is fought. It was so important to the people of Portugal to end the stunting of education that they fought for all children to be able to stay in school, for you to be able to stay in school! That is why neighbors, family, strangers when they hear how old you are they tell you the story of how they had to leave school, because they are so proud and grateful that you don’t have to. You are truly privileged, Hank.

Hank: If the revolution didn’t happen that means my papa would also have finished school when he was nine years old, too?

Me: Yes. Our family is a proud, funny, loud, charming, working class, amazing group of loving people, but your papa would have never become a doctor (Phd) without the revolution or the money to keep him in school.

Hank: And papa would have never gone to study in America and you would never have met and I wouldn’t have you and papa as my parents and Molly as my sister.

Me: (nodding) When someone confesses that they left school at your age your answer should never be (annoyed), “I know, I know, jeesh.” You should listen to what they’re saying with an open heart and say, “I am so lucky. I love school.”

Hank: I never thought of it that way.

Me: Another reason you are privileged. You never had to. And now on to the second part of your query: Yes, for the rest of your life from this day forward someone will ask about your future plans: job, wife or no wife, kids or no kids, house, car, the whole enchilada.

Hank: What’s an enchilada?

Me: (shaking my head) You’re so European. An enchilada… never mind it means everything. (starting over) Hence forth for the rest of your life until you’ve become stable and established people will pepper you with question as to your intentions.

Hank: Why? That is so frustrating.  I don’t know!  How am I supposed to know?

Me: Some people do.  My childhood friend Lisa wanted to become a chemical engineer when she was your age and guess what?

Hank: What.

Me: She is a chemical engineer.

Hank: How did she know that way back then?

Me: She just did. Now, I have a bit of a trick that worked well for me when I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life so the next time someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up you can say, “I don’t know what I want to do yet but I plan on being very happy.”

Hank: That’s good. I like that. That is what I will say.

Me: It works well and changes the subject away from the epic life quandary and on to the satisfying notion to live a happy, lovely life.

Hank: That’s perfect because I don’t know about the future. I might have a job that pays my bills and then my happiness comes from my life and my friends and my family.

Me: Truth! That’s what I did until I moved to Portugal.  I had a string of jobs that paid the bills and then focused on my passions after work. A smart, thoughtful answer will get you far. You don’t have to let other people pressure you. Never take other people personally! You do you and grow and learn and your future will unfold as it should. I can’t imagine what your future will look like. The world is changing so fast, far too fast for you at nine or I at 37 to be able to answer the question of what you will be when you grow up, but you will work hard to be happy.  That we know for certain.

Hank: People ask you what I want to be?

Me: All the flippin’ time! It’s madness. It’s far too rushed.

Hank: Wow.

Me: But it was the same when I was young, but unlike you I always had an answer until I was about 19 and then I had no clue. When I was your age I wanted to be a flower arranger.

Hank: What’s that?

Me: The person who makes bouquets at the flower shop.

Hank: Oh, so you wanted to own a flower shop?

Me: No, I just wanted to be the arranger. Then I wanted to be a writer.

Hank: You are a writer.

Me: But then I forgot I wanted to be a writer when I fell behind in school and started struggling with reading and writing. I thought writers must be smart and I knew I was stupid

Hank: You’re not stupid.

Me: Well, I know that now, but I was convinced then that I was stupid because I didn’t know I was dyslexic SO because I could barely read or write I decided I would be an actress.

Hank: You did?

Me: Oh yes. This was my longest phase. I never got one lead roll and was a constant chorus girl but I was determined and auditioned for everything. Then I decided I wanted to be an anthropologist.

Hank: A what?

Me: A doctor who studies people and cultures. It was the only “real job” I could find that felt utterly romantic and adventurous.  I wanted to travel the world and immerse myself in cultures and then observe how those cultures grew and thrived, but all the while I was making art and taking art classes and throwing pottery and was always in the art building and covered in mud or in museums sitting quietly in front of art to sooth my weary soul.

Hank: But you’re not an anthropologist.

Me: No, I dropped out of school.  I couldn’t keep up with the reading and the work.  I didn’t want to get a Phd and my grades were average at best and school was expensive and so I got a job and just worked but I spent my vacations making fruit trays and doing kitchen prep in the kitchens of these fancy craft schools in North Carolina and Tennessee so that I could take more pottery classes and learn from working potters. I worked all year to be an artist for a few weeks and then I got a second job managing a ceramics and photography studio. I taught classes and I met your papa and I realized that I was an artist, there was no helping it, so I went back to school and then I got pregnant and then I moved to Europe and then I learned Portuguese and I remembered I had always wanted to be a writer so I started doing that and then I had your sister and then I got sick, but I kept writing, and now I am making working with clay again and teaching workshops and my RA/AS is more manageable and through it all I have always, always, always promised myself I would be happy. And I have been. I am happy every single day and I am loved and I consider that to be the success of my life.

Hank: Wow.  You have done so much.

Me: Life is not a strait line, Hank. It is a winding road.  It is an adventure.

Hank: I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I have decided to be very happy.

Me: No one ever called you dumb.

Hank: Not one day.



conversations with hank

Black Chickens Scratchin’ in the Meadow with Bees and Butterflies and Molly


(entering a dark bedroom way past bedtime)

Molly: (sing-songy) Paaaaaaapaah! Papa! Paaaaaaaaapaah? Papa!!!

Me: Amália Sofia, hush now.

Hank: Argh. Mama, I need to sleep.

Me: Hank, thank you for being patient with your baby sister.

Molly: Mama!! Mama? Sing. Horses? Sing Horses?

Me: First, MaGoo, we are going to make a plan. We will sing some songs and then you don’t have to sleep but you have to be quiet. You share this room with your mano (brother) and you are being very rude. It is time for sleeping and you are squawking like a pterodactyl hatchling in here!

Molly: (singing) Dinosaur, Dinorsaur use to be here (mumble, mumble) anymooooorrrrreeee!

Hank: (whispering) Mama, are you feeling better?

Me: Not really, but my heart feels better because you asked.

Hank: You’re hands are still not working?

Me: That is what an arthritis flare does. Sometimes it is other parts of my body, today it is my hands, but with luck tomorrow will be better.

Molly: (singing) Sugar (mumble, muble) go down! (mumble, mumble) Go Dooooooowwwwwwwn (mumble, mumble) Go down!

Hank: Sometimes it is your legs, sometimes it is this bone here, I remember. (pointing to his collar bone)

Me: That is the worst that and also the sternum (pointing to the sternum on my body) When my sternum hurts it is hard to bend and breathe. Today is just hands and arms and my right foot. Not too bad, but it meant the littlest chicken of the family didn’t get to run off her excess energy this afternoon because I needed rest(singing) Hence the cabaret, old chum! Come to AMÁLIA’S CABARET!

Molly: (laughing and clapping, excited I am finally joining the song fest)

Hank: (kicking a leg out from under his covers) I hate it when you hurt.

Me: Me, too, but I love you and that makes everything a million times easier.


Me: Molly, don’t be rude. Be kind. Speak to me kindly, please.

Molly: (sweetly) Mama, sing. Mama, sing horses for baby Manny? And black chickens and America? (nodding, head on her tiny pillow)

Me: No elephants tonight, MaGoo?  You would like me to sing about the horses and chickens at Alice and Manny and Filipe’s farm?

Molly: and America.

Me: And a shaggy dog named, America?

Molly: And black Chickens. Baby Chickens? Baby Manny and chichakens (finishing with a bit of a hiccup). Mama, go go go see baby chichakens, okay? (kicking off her covers ready to leave right now) Go go go?

Me: Molly my dear, we can’t go now! The baby chickens are sleeping. Baby Manny and Alice and Filipe are sleeping and that little shaggy dog named, America, is also sleeping.

Hank: Plus we only have one flashlight and their road has no street lights. We would have to climb their road in the dark and they would think we were criminals.

Molly: PJ Masks?

Me: We aren’t ninjas kids with late night special powers. I am just your mama with bad hands.

Hank: And I am too tired to go on a baby chicken hunt.

Me: We will sing songs and then we will let your mano (brother) sleep by being very quiet, okay?

Molly: Okay. (sad) Horses. (singing) Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry. Gooooo to sleep baby Manny. (mumble mumble) wake (mumble) will find, America, black chickens, horses.

Me: Very good, Molly. You rest now and Mama will sing, Okay?

Molly: Okay!

Me:(taking over the lullaby)
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry
Go to sleep my little Manny
When you wake you will find
Dixie and Cinza the horses.

Black chickens scratch
With chicks brown, speckled and yellow
And Dixie and Cinza the horses.

Bees and butterflies
Buzz in the meadow with
A shaggy dog named, America.
A gaggle of geese but no sheep
And Dixie and Cinza the horses.

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry
Go to sleep my little Molly.
When you wake you will find
All your friends on Manny’s farm.

Black chickens scratch
With chicks brown, speckled and yellow
And Dixie and Cinza the horses.

Hush-a-bye don’t you cry
Go to sleep you little baby.

conversations with hank

Cinza on the left and Dixie on the right

A shaggy dog named America

A shaggy dog named, America


Late to the School Pick-Up

Illustration by Joy Hanford 2013

Illustration by Joy Hanford (aka Me) 2013


Me: Desculpa! (Sorry!) Desculpa, Henrique! Desculpa, Sr. Paulo!

Hank: Mama!

Sr. Paulo (school attendant): Não precisa diz desculpa. Até amanha. (You don’t have to say sorry. Until tomorrow.)

Me: Até amanha, Sr. Paulo. Obrigada sempre!(Until tomorrow, Sr. Paulo. Thank you, always!)

Sr. Paulo: De nada, Mãe do Henrique. (It is nothing, Mother of Hank)

Me: (waving goodbye) I am so sorry I am late, Hank.

Hank: (pretending not to have worried where I was for the last half an hour) You’re late?

Me: You’re so nice!

Hank: (looking at his watch) Only by 30 minutes.

Me: Jeesh! (winded) I practically flew here. I left late but then I saw our neighbor from the first floor so I had to stop and chat with her about what is going on in America today, no one can believe it including me, and then I practically ran here because I was so late.

Hank: Mama! You are not aloud to run! No running ever.

Me: I didn’t really run, but I walked fast enough there was a bit of wind in my hair.

Hank: Do you need to sit down at the café for a minute? Are you okay?

Me: I am not okay. I am upset and high on fury and if it is okay with you I would like to take a snack for you to go from the café and head home. The American House of Representatives is voting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act today and I am completely swept up watching those who oppose the ACA’s privileged, ignorant, misogynistic nonsense vomited forth righteously for the world to witness. (exhail dramatically) That is why I was late. (throwing my hands in the air) I was yelling at the tv.

Hank: They can’t hear you so why do you yell? I don’t get it.

Me: Because the republicans and democrats in favor of the new proposed healthcare bill make me so mad I just can’t contain myself. It is a terrible habit I picked up from your grandpa Snitch. He does it too.

Hank: This vote, this is the reason you didn’t get out of bed when Trump became president, right? This is why you cried because you can no longer live in America because you are sick and your doctors and medicine will be too expensive?

Me: Yes and today is just the first leg of the voting process. First The House and if the bill passes it will then go to The Senate for a vote. If humanity and common decency fails today then there is still a chance the bill will die in The Senate.

Hank: I just don’t understand why they want to take healthcare away. Everyone needs doctors.

Me: It is rather complicated. America isn’t ready to make sacrifices for their healthcare like we do where in by covering healthcare under a solidarity tax. Here every citizen of Portugal with above a certain salary pays a percentage based on what they earn toward healthcare for all. Health care isn’t free here and there are private options if you don’t want to use the public system…

Hank: Where you pay more.

Me: Yes you can choose private but you have already paid for public health care with your taxes. You don’t have to use it, but everyone pays. Everyone pays so everyone has access. Solidarity. America is a capitalistic culture and focuses on individualism over solidarity. You take care of you in America. Everyone focus on themselves and their personal success and it is hard for some people to understand the inhumanity of putting a price tag on healthcare therefore denying some people because they are poor or were born ill or are recovering from addiction or have mental health issues and have reached out for help. All of these things are considered “preexisting conditions,” and this new bill wants to let The States govern which illnesses are noble enough to be considered worthy of access to affordable healthcare and it all just makes me seethe. Do you know what the word seethe means?

Hank: No.

Me: You know when you are boiling something on the stove, lets say pasta, and the pot gets so hot that the water froths, rises up and boils over?

Hank: Yes.

Me: That is to seethe, but it can also mean an anger deep inside that is ready to boil up and out of a person and I am seething, absolutely seething.

Hank: I don’t understand why some people in America don’t want to help people. It makes me think that I am not very American in that way and more Portuguese. There are families who can’t pay for their school fees and there are people who go to the doctor and can’t pay their bill, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need those things. There are some things that every person needs.

Me: YES, You are correct. In Portugal, those who can afford to each give a little more so that everyone, including people who TODAY have enough but whom someday may have nothing because you never know where life will take you, Hank. In Portugal depending on your income there is a sliding scale tax rate from roughly 14-42% so that everyone, regardless of their situation, has access to care. There is a grace to living in a country that provides for the basic needs of their citizens. The Affordable Care Act wasn’t free, there is no such thing as free healthcare. There is no free lunch and there is no perfect system. With the ACA people had to pay for premiums and deductibles and built into those payments was a bit of a parachute so that EVERYONE could access care when they needed it. Sure there are personal stories of how difficult it was for some families to add that extra money to their budget, people have to make some sacrifices, but there are also MILLIONS of stories where because of a crisis, a chronic or debilitating medical condition people who out of no where would have been destitute because of the Affordable Care Act didn’t lose their house, didn’t have to declare bankruptcy, didn’t have to choose against a surgery that may only have a 65%  success rate rather than burdening your family with debt you left behind if you died. (emotional) Hank, I am not an expat. I am not a person who lives in Portugal because of a job or because it is romantic. I am an immigrant. I immigrated to Portugal for the healthcare. I am an American woman with three preexisting conditions two of which are chronic and degenerative and I was fortunate enough to fall in love with a man who could provide me with a visa.  Because I have the privilege of living here I do not suffer with worry because I HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR MY MEDICAL CARE, I have access to amazing, quality medical care, I have government subsidized prescriptions and we as a family without the stress of medical debt have a quality of life that is unimaginable to the person I was when we moved here seven years ago. America is at war between humanity and capitalism. Capitalism teaches you that if you work hard enough you can make all your dreams come true. LIFE teaches us through tragedy and illness and loss and natural disasters and simple mistakes that lead to bigger problems that there are no guarantees. You can be in a mansion one day and on the streets the next.  There is no mercy in America.  None. I didn’t ask to be sick. I am an extremely hard working self-motivated America woman who just so happened to be born with a diseased body. And there are men and women right now voting to give power over my healthcare to people WHO WOULD STAND IN JUDGEMENT AND ARGUE if I am worthy of access based on my medical history. I lived in that America, Hank. That is what my life was like before I immigrated in 2010. I was denied private insurance due to my mental health preexisting condition even before I was even diagnosed with RA and AS. There is nothing more damning than lawmakers saying that reaching out and asking for medical help disqualifies you from ever having access again. The shame… (shaking my head and taking a moment to breath so I don’t burst into hysterics on top of my soap box)

Hank: Today is the vote? This hasn’t happened for real yet?

Me: (deeeeep breath) Today is the vote and I AM TAKING NAMES. I am writing a list of names of lawmakers who are so biased and ignorant they are damning millions of Americans and condemning them to a life of suffering, of worry and of unavoidable debt because bodies are fallible and people are fallible and no one is perfect and imperfection screws up profit margins. Greed, Hank… Greed is a disease that blinds people and this afternoon I sat and witnessed a large amount of blind men and women who have been elected to public governing office and it makes me sick to my stomach.

Hank: Everyone thinks America is so great, is the best.

Me: (raising one finger to make just one thing clear) Thought. Everyone thought that once, but since the election and repeals such as the Affordable Care Act “everyone” is beginning to think something different.

Hank: I hope they vote to keep the Affordable Care Act. People need more time to figure out their budget and get used to their life. Life isn’t about stuff it’s about people and nice days and healthy food and seeing new things and reading good books and using your imagination and bike rides and family and friends and friends who are family.

Me: Agreed. We will see how today goes, buddy. Thank you for letting me rant.

Hank: Is it hard to be watching things happening in your country while living far away? You always get upset about sad and scary things in America.

Me: The worst. It’s the worst. I am so grateful to be here and have the opportunities Portugal has to offer, but at the same time I feel guilty to be so privileged here in Portugal. Our life is a gift. (deep sigh) Survivors guilt… This feeling has a name and it is called survivors guilt.

Hank: It will all be okay. Americans are smart. This is only a bad time with bad leaders, but there will be another president and new people fixing the laws and kids will grow up and make things better.

Me: Thank you, Hank. I needed to hear that.

(The bill to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act passed The House by 4 votes)