Thursday, March 31, 2022

New words, new connections

Day 31 of 31 at TWT!

When I pull into a parking place, the 12 year old shyly waves out their front window and I laugh as the 3 year old starts jumping up and down. Someone opens the door and I put my hand over my heart, grinning. "Salam Alaikum!" 

"Hello ma'am!" "Salam!" "Hello!"

I take off my shoes and settle on the couch, knowing that hot tea and a plate of nuts and dates is coming. It's familiar and cozy. "The other day, my 3 year old said she wanted to go to Afghanistan again sometime!" 

The oldest son interrupts me and they all shake their heads. "Oh no, not go to Afghanistan!"

I giggle. "She meant coming here! She loves visiting your family!" 

They laugh, eyes wide. "Ohhhh, THIS Afghanistan! Yes!" 

We all laugh together, and I think back to my first time visiting them. It might as well have been a real trip to Afghanistan! I'm so used to working with my EL students from around the world at school, but a visit to the apartment of a family I'd never met, from a culture I was not familiar with, was a whole different exprerience.

-

Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. Noticing too late that I was sweating, I turned down the car heater despite the frigid temperatures outside. Don't point with the finger; use a whole hand. Take off my shoes. Eat anything they offer. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. I'd spent most of the morning studying the Afghan cultural information and Dari phrases included in our Welcome Team materials, and I didn't want to forget it all on the drive across town to meet the family! I tried to remind myself who all the family members were too, but I found I'd already forgotten most of the unfamiliar names from our spreadsheet. 

I took a few deep breaths as I pulled up to the address and put on my mask. Curtains at the front window swung around and some curious faces peered out above a couch. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. 

Grabbing the bags of masks and kids' art supplies, I started to knock tentatively when the door swung open.

"Salam alaikum!" I put my hand over my heart just as I'd practiced. 

Their faces lit up as their hands went over their hearts too. "Salam alaikum!" "Salam!" "Hello!" 

"Please, ma'am, sit." They motioned to the couch with open hands and I sat. 

"Name..." Now I wasn't sure if I remembered it right. "...man... Jennifer... ast...?"

"OHHH! You speak Dari?!?!" Their eyes flew open wide. 

"Oh, no, just a little," I held up pinched fingers, "for you!" 

"Oh, very good! Very good!" So many wide smiles and bright eyes. 

"Look, tomorrow is a special American holiday about love. I brought crafts!" I started digging out craft supplies that were snatched by small fingers before I could even finish explaining. Suddenly, I looked down at my feet. Oh no, I forgot to take off my shoes! I scrambled back to the doorway to shed them on the doormat. 

Digging back in the bag, I found Sweetie's example Valentine card. "Here, my daughter made this for you!" I showed them a picture of Sweetie and pointed back at the card. "This is what we can make together!" 

"Ohhhh, beautiful!" "Very good!" They crowded around as the dad, who knows the most English, exclaimed, "She write 'I love you!'"

"Yes! It's a holiday about love and friends!" 

He put his hands over his heart. "Oh, beautiful!" 

The 12 year old and 6 year old immediately dove into the supplies and started making their own cards, then handed them to me. "For your daughter!" they declared proudly.

They asked their dad to write their names on their cards, and as he streaked the smooth lines of Dari across, he asked "Your daughter name?" When I told him, he wrote it in Dari too, then painstakingly formed the English letters "i lov you" in the middle. 

"You are CRIS volunteer?" the dad asked as the kids colored and cut.

"Yes, I'm a teacher with some of the other volunteers you've met before."

"Ohhh teacher, very good! In Afghanistan, my job is help American soldiers. We love Americans, very nice. So we come here with SIV. I am so..." He paused, searching for a word, then just put both hands over his heart with gratitude shining in his eyes, "... to America for bring my family here."

Suddenly, the door swung open again and their cousin, who has lived in America for several years, entered. "Salam alaikum!" I put my hand over my heart again, and she smiled. 

In the flurry of Dari and pointing at me and the cards that ensued, I could clearly catch that they were explaining that I'd spoken to them in Dari and brought the craft supplies. "I love you!" popped up interspersed with Dari as the dad proudly pointed to the card Sweetie had made for them. 

By the time I left several hours later, there was a whole pile of cards to take home to my girls, and my whole family was invited for a special meal the next night. "Tascha kor! Tascha kor!" Thank you was certainly the most important phrase to learn when spending time with this amazingly sweet family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

When we're together

Day 30 of 31 at TWT!

 "Maybe this is a new family tradition!" I lean forward at my two sweet girls as they share a shamrock seat and nibble chicken nuggets from a flower table. The not-quite-setting sun casts a golden glow on their faces as an astonishingly warm breeze tosses their soft hair (one blonde, one brown). 

"A tradition?!" Rainbow Girl's eyes light up. "Like Olaf and Anna and Elsa at Christmas?" 

"That's right!" I giggle. "A tradition is just something that we like to do again and again!" I scoop refreshing Frosty into my mouth. And I think we really like eating Wendy's at this playground!" 

<3 <3

Sweetie plants a kiss on her little sister's head and they both laugh. When they finish eating, they scamper off to play some more on the unique structures; Rainbow heads for the gigantic outdoor xylophones while her big sis uses brute arm strength to hang-climb up some inclined parallel bars, then turns around to sit on top of them and slide back down again. Sweetie climbs the large dirt mound with an embedded slide while Rainbow floppily runs to the mini city, clambering onto the red fire truck climbing structure and running in and out of the little buildings, pretending to buy items at the market and take them home to the little house.

I just breathe the spring air in and out. It smells like hope. While we had flurries of snow just a few days ago, this Spring Break day is a hint that summer isn't far away at all. 

One of our new favorite songs from that Frozen Christmas special that Rainbow was thinking of pops into my head. "When we're together, it's a holiday every night... when we're together, it's my favorite time of year!"


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Going to Afghanistan

Day 29 of 31 at TWT

"I wanna go to Afghanistan again sometime!" Rainbow Girl bounces in her booster seat. 

It takes me a second. Has she heard us talking about Afghanistan and figured out that it's a place? Then it hits me. "Ohhh! You want to go visit the /family/ from Afghanistan again sometime?!"

"YEAH! And RUN AROUND!" She leans toward me, lifts her chin and scrunches her face into her biggest smile.

I grin, remembering watching her and Sweetie frolic with the Afghan kids in their apartment when we first visited over a month ago. In their typical fashion, Sweetie put her hand over her heart and said "Salam" as I'd taught her, then immediately started trying to engage her 6 year old counterpart in a mutually unintelligible conversation about the pictures they'd drawn for each other, while Rainbow Girl initially wanted to stay in my lap. (It didn't help that her 3 year old counterpart kept toddling into the other room and shyly peering around the corner, even more uncertain of new things and people than Rainbow sometimes is!) Knowing how much Rainbow loves helping Husband cook, I'd tried to get her interested in watching the mom craft handmade bolani in the kitchen. We peeked as she formed soft dough balls and tossed them like pizza dough, then folded a potato filling into them.

One of the teens grabbed a couple of toys from the closet for the little ones and Rainbow scrambled off my lap. Soon, there was so much running and giggling it seemed like there were 10 young kids instead of 5, delighting in the universal language of play, dancing, and laughter even though they couldn't say any words each other might understand. Uncharacteristically, Rainbow even let the oldest teen girl pick her up and hug her! Between a smattering of English words, gestures, photos on our phones, and Google Translate, the teens and adults all talked about how cute they were, which kids gravitate towards mom or dad, and what we like to do.

By the time we were saying "tascha kor" ('thank you') and miming that the girls needed to get to sleep, both Rainbow and Sweetie were already asking when we could play with them again. 

I'll never forget the way their 6 year old squealed when she caught sight of the playground equipment the first time we took them to a park. "YAY!!!!" she screeched from my backseat, and they all ran around again, climbing and sliding together, both 6 year olds ending up with arms around each other on the walk back to the cars. (The family does not have a car yet, so as registered refugee volunteers, a colleague and I drove everyone from their family who wanted to go to the park, while Husband drove our girls to meet us there.)

Sweetie playing with the Afghan girl who's her age

When I told Sweetie that the kids were finally able to enroll in school after finishing all their medical checks, she noted, "But won't that be so hard for them? They don't know English!" She's met some of my students before when I've taken her to school events, but she'd never really spent quality time interacting with newcomer kids until we met this Afghan family.

"That's why I teach English to students who speak other languages!" I smiled proudly. "They'll have a teacher like me to help them! In fact, some of my friends are their teachers!"

Just a few months ago, I was reading about refugees and wondering what I could do to help (especially now that I teach in a part of our district that doesn't really receive them). Now, thanks the opportunity to be part of the district's welcome team in conjunction with our local refugee resettlement agency, my family has gained a whole family of new friends. It's an experience I highly recommend! 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Shouting out 'Hooray!'

Day 28 of 31 at TWT!

 "What're you turning on the TV for?" Rainbow Girl cranes her neck from her spot crouched on the floor, playing with the VTech Smart Animals set affectionately known in our house as "Kitty and Baba's house". 

"Oh, there's something special I'm hoping we can see today..." I grin.

"What is it? What is it? What is it?" Sweetie starts leaping around the family room, and Rainbow soon imitates her. 

I just smile and find the right place to click on the tv's YouTube app until the event pops up... with a preview picture of someone very special! 

"LAURIE!!!!" Both girls squeal and jump as if they're seeing a best friend or favorite family member. 

The countdown timer appears, and after yelling, "church!" because it's the same one our church uses before online services, they excitedly count down as they prance around the room. ("Is it church?" Rainbow Girl keeps interjecting, and I keep reassuring her, "It's just the same countdown as church. It's gonna be Laurie!")

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0..." Bouncing curls, bright eyes, a smile that seems to tell even me that everything is going to be ok, and a guitar appear, and it's spring of 2020 and 2 years of rocking chair snuggles all at once as Laurie Berkner launches into the song that's become our special lullaby, "When I Woke Up Today". Rainbow runs around the room for a verse and then scrambles onto my lap as if she can't decide if it's better to dance or cuddle to this song. "I shouted out 'hooray'! / 'cause I knew I'd see you..." I pull her close as I coo into her ear, "and we could sing together..."

Just like we've seen her do for 2 years now, Laurie looks straight into the camera after the song, telling us to grab our instruments and stuffed animals, seeming to talk right to us in that Mr. Rodgers-esque measured, caring way. Even I forget that she can't actually see us; her conversational tone is so authentic. It truly feels as if an old friend is visiting us as we notice the new decorations in her house and watch her tune her guitar, take sips of water, and dance around her family room as we frolic around ours.

blanket-monsters for the "Monster Boogie" today!

I can't believe it's been 2 years. Rainbow has grown from a sitting baby flailing her "Laurie shake-shake" to a preschooler who can actually jump along with "Chipmunk at the Gas Pump". We've curated our own playlists to enjoy when the daily Lives stopped and eagerly celebrated the release of new music videos. Sweetie has gone from finishing preschool remotely to thriving in person in 1st grade.

so little in spring 2020!
a quick dance break with their daddy in summer 2020!

When I see Laurie's smile, I remember how Rainbow gradually stopped crying as Laurie put on her mask at the end of every Facebook Live in spring 2020; how that simple act helped her understand that Laurie was still Laurie in a mask and by the time we actually started needing to wear masks, it was no big deal. I remember the guaranteed half hour of joy each day when the stress and weight of the pandemic lifted away as we danced and wiggled around this room and listened to Laurie tell us we were superheroes and she loved us. I remember the delight of learning fun new songs and the familiar comfort of classics we already knew. I remember stuffed animals on our heads, becoming goldfish and dinosaurs and monsters, and grabbing Husband out of the den to blast off Rocketship-Sweetie into the air while I lifted Rainbow-Rocketship beside her. I remember scooping up 1yo Rainbow to fly her around like a bumblebee. I remember the magical excitement of Laurie saying the girls' names or playing requested songs we put in the chat. I remember dragging all our our pool toys into house for the virtual beach concert and wearing our costumes for the Halloween one. I remember the way both girls' faces absolutely lit up every single time Laurie appeared on our TV, and the way Rainbow would grab favorite toys and run up to the TV to show Laurie, convinced that she could really see us. I remember both sisters running wildly around the house with their toy guitars, "Laurie shake-shake" (tambourine), toy Harry the Chipmunk, and superhero blanket-capes.

Most of all, I remember having something certain to look forward to when the days dragged into weeks and months, and hope turned into uncertainty, monotony, and frustration. And I remember, as we noticed small changes in Laurie's room, saw her dial in other bandmates from their houses across the miles, and watched her overcome technical challenges and learn new digital tricks, feeling like we were really in this together.

So on a much-too-frigid-to-be-outside, still-not-safe-from-Covid-indoors first day of Spring Break, there was truly "no better thing to do / than sing a song and hear you sing it too" with Laurie. Thank you, Laurie, for your concerts in our house these past 2 years. Someday, we hope to see you in person.

Rainbow, now 3, holding her own animal for "Pig on Head"!

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The best sisters

Day 27 of 31 at TWT!

 "I wanna eat at the craft table!" Rainbow Girl scampers over to the white plastic table and pulls out a pink chair. "With YOU, Sis!"

Grabbing her Minnie Mouse plate and unicorn cup from the big table, Sweetie heads over to sit with her little sister. I remember how she loved that table when she was a toddler, and now she has to scrunch and squeeze to fit. 

After rummaging in the pantry for my own lunch, I'm met with a sweet surprise: instead of each sitting on one side of the craft table like usual, both girls are huddled beside each other on the same side of the tiny table. "Aww, are you sitting right beside each other?" I scurry over to take a picture before one of them decides the other is too far in her space. 

"You're the best sister in the world..." Sweetie puts an arm around her little sister and starts crooning the song she made up when Rainbow Girl was a baby. Rainbow leans against her shoulder and grabs her hand. 

<3

When Sis finishes, Rainbow adopts her declarative reading / announcing / performing voice and starts singing the same song loudly back. "...you're the best sister in the world / come here, Sissy, / and give me a hug and kiss... / I love you, Sissy!"

Sis leans her face almost-too-close, gazing and grinning with wide blue eyes that glitter. 

"Aw, look, she loves the song you made up for her!" I remember how my heart swelled when Sweetie first made it up, how I thought it was a one-time thing that she'd forget, and how she kept singing it to her baby sister for months. And now here's Rainbow, not a baby anymore, singing it back. 

The best sisters in the world.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Marrying

Day 26 of 31 at TWT!

(a slice from earlier this week; it's freezing cold today!)

"Mommy, marry me!" Rainbow Girl giggles in my ear as I carry her away from the playground after an afternoon of too much fun in unseasonably warm weather. It's already past bedtime on a school night, but it was so hard to leave the park with 70-degree-weather in March!

Behind us on the sidewalk, her exhausted big sister has convinced Husband to carry her to the car too, gangly legs and wiry arms wrapped around him as she croon-whines, "Daddy, I LOVE you! MARRY me!" Always a Daddy's Girl, Sis must have already said this once as she begged him to pick her up, and that must be what prompted Rainbow, my mama's girl, to say it now.

"Ok!" I squeeze Rainbow closer. "I promise to love you forever and ever!" I rub her nose with mine. 

"Is that MARRYING?!" she squeals, giggling more. 

A few steps back, I can hear Husband protesting, "I'm already your daddy! We're already a family!"

"Yes, Honey Bun!" I reply to Rainbow. "Well, and we have to kiss!" I gaze into her blue eyes and plant an exaggerated smooch on her face just as she opens her mouth in a loud cackle. 

"I love you oh so much, Sweetie Pie!" I whisper in her ear. She flops into my shoulder, super snuggly now. 

"Mama Pie," she mumbles, wiggling against me. 

One daddy's girl and one mama's girl. One family so full of love. Yep, that's marrying! <3

Friday, March 25, 2022

Nuestro arco iris

(I write in Spanish on Fridays. If you don't read Spanish, feel free to experience the magic (and imperfection) of machine translation by pasting this post's url into Google Translate! And if you can write in a language other than English, join me next Friday!)
Write in another language on Fridays!
Day 25 of 31 at TWT!

- ¡Está lloviendo! - con las piernas y los brazos rígidos, mi hija de tres años señala con el dedito. 

¿Lloviendo? Veo las gotas en la madera afuera a la vez que noto la luz anaranjada de unas rayas del sol. Salto de la mesa de inmediato y corro hacia la ventana. Sí, allí está. -¡Un arco iris! - grito, corriendo de vuelta a la mesa para sacarle a mi hijita de su silla mientras su hermana cruza conmigo, corriendo hacia la ventana.

Llevo a mi hijita a la puerta de vidrio y asomamos a ver el arco pintado en el cielo. -Wow- suspira ella. Nos quedamos un rato observando los colores suspendidos en el cielo como si un niño los hubiera dibujado en las nubes. Detrás de nosotras, mi esposo saca unas fotos de nuestra Hijita Arcoiris mirando al arco iris.

anoche <3

La abrazo y siento el peso de su cuerpito en la cadera. Inclino la cabeza hacia la suya y la beso. Cierro los ojos por un instante. Mi arco iris. 

Su hermana mayor la toma de la mano. Mi esposo me mira fijo. Las lágrimas, la desesperación, la mezcla de terror y esperanza, las oraciones. La gratitud. Nuestro arco iris. Nuestro regalo de Dios, nuestro recordatorio de la promesa que Dios nos guarda, nos cuida, nos ama, a pesar de las tormentas de la vida en la tierra. 

La lluvia y el sol. Las nubes oscuras y las rayas brillantes. El llanto y el gozo. La promesa antigua que la vida en la tierra continuará. 

Sé que hay tantas familias que no recibirán ningún arco iris. Que a veces el dolor no se alivia en esta vida. 

Pero también sé que los milagros sí existen. Me aferro a uno en los brazos mientras observamos la belleza de otro en el cielo.

el verano pasado, señalando con el dedito (y su conejito favorito) <3
 
- He puesto mi arco iris en las nubes, y servirá como señal de la alianza que hago con la tierra. Gen 9:13