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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.