Lighthouse: Stay

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On Santi’s first night with us, I didn’t sleep well. I kept hearing again the angry chants of the rioters, with Santi’s music quieting it all. The music carried power, while the musician stood vulnerable.

And then, the pain of parting rushed through me. I couldn’t bear that she’d be leaving us.

In the quiet hour before dawn, I took Mojo for a walk down by the beach.

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He understood my feelings, even if he couldn’t comprehend their reasons.

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We walked until the sky turned silver. Slowly, quietly, the spin of the lighthouse beam brought my thoughts into harmony with my greater trust: It would all work out. It would all work out and I would accept it.

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I would accept it, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be saddened by it.

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When we returned home with first sun rays, I wanted to stop the sun. I didn’t want another day to pass, for the day after tomorrow, Ritu would take Santi, and even if I trusted, even if I could feel acceptance and harmony, I felt resistance, too. I could accept it, but I didn’t want to accept it. I wanted to stop it.

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In the early morning, waiting for Sept and Santi to rise, I busied myself with chores.

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When I came back in, I found Santi cleaning the bathroom.

“Oh, honey!” I said. “You don’t have to do that! You don’t need to do chores!”

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She looked up with a big smile. We went into the kitchen, and I heated up leftover tacos for breakfast. I sat at the other end of the table, avoiding looking in her face. I was distancing myself. I didn’t know any other way to approach this.

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She found delight in watching the goldfish in our tank. Seeing her happiness, my throat tightened, and, as I heard Sept’s footsteps on the stairs, I ran outside. I was afraid I’d start crying if I looked in his kind eyes.

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But he followed me out.

“What’s up, Mal?” he asked.

I let it all out.

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I told him about trusting, accepting, resisting, and all the denial I was wrapping myself in to try to get through this. I told him I’d fallen in love with Santi, and I couldn’t bear that she was leaving us.

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“In that case,” he said. “She’ll stay!”

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I didn’t see how it could happen.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “It can’t be that simple.”

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“I don’t see why not,” he said.

“What about Ritu’s plans? What about the family she’s found for her?”

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“She’s staying with us,” Sept said. “I’m part of this thing, too.” He meant that he was part of the rebel movement, and I know now that he wasn’t just an incidental part of it, he was an integral part of it. In his own way, here on this planet, he was, even then, a leader in the movement. Sept was important.

“Can you do that?” I asked. “Can you decide something and make it happen?”

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He reminded me that Ritu worked for the movement–she was there to support it–and whatever Xirra and the others directed, that’s what she did. And Xirra, in this instance, would take her lead from Sept.

“In other words,” I said, “Santi stays with us!”

“That she does,” said Sept, “if you feel it’s best.”

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It turned out to be very easy. Ritu didn’t have another family lined up yet–she hadn’t been sure what to do with the child, and so she felt relief that Santi would stay with us. She said she couldn’t imagine a better placement, for everyone concerned.

That morning, when Sept and I went back inside, Santi waited in the kitchen. She was still hungry, even after our taco breakfast. I made a sandwich and served it to her.

“Here you go, moSanti,” I said.

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Squeegee, mobizaabgotojo!” she said.

“Would you like to stay here?” I asked. “Gotukoda?”

Byugotokoda,” she said. “Squeegee.”

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And that’s how Santi came to stay with us and to be our daughter. MoSanti.

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Zuki: Bear-Chair

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Zuki loves the Bear-Chair. Placed before the big garden window in the girls bedroom, with rugs on the floor and Meadow and Jasper’s bright paintings on the walls, it’s easy to see why this is her favorite place.

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It’s her new dining spot. Jena has taken to joining her.

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Jena has stepped right into the role of big sister-cousin. She explains everything to Zuki.

“Don’t worry about being an orphan and a refugee,” I heard her tell Zuki the other day. “I am an orphan refugee, too!”

She said it as if it were something to be proud of. I suppose, given the way she went on to define it, it’s worthy of pride. Or at least, gratitude.

Confession time: I was adopted. My mom, a beautiful tall Jamaican woman, and my dad, a dapper bespectacled Japanese man, met in San Myshunu. In every photo, I’m a little scruffy thing, held in their arms, caught by the camera mid-squirm. “You are a very lucky young lady,” my dad always told me. I was raised to believe that adopted children are not only special for having been chosen, but that they are Most Fortunate for having been given a reason for ongoing gratitude that lasts through their lifetime.

“Being a refugee is no big deal,” Jena explained to Zuki. “It just means that you left someplace dangerous to come live someplace safe.”

Zuki whistled and clucked.

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“I like that definition,” I told Jena.

“It’s true, isn’t it, Mizuki Suzuki?” She never calls me just Mizuki. It’s always “Mizuki Suzuki,” or, if she’s feeling especially affectionate, Mizu-Suzu.

“It certainly is true, Jena,” I replied.

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We are so lucky that we live in a safe place, that our fields aren’t littered with landmines and UXOs, that our nights are quiet, and our streets are calm. We live in a refuge, so it only makes sense that we would open our homes to refugees. What these two little girls don’t know is the peace they carry, each an ambassador and diplomat. After all, if anyone met them, how could they not love them? And if you love them, wouldn’t you then want to do anything you could to ensure peace for the lands where they come from and the peoples they belong to? Open your home and heart to a refugee, and next thing you know, you’re marching for peace, too!

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Lenora 1

A reply to: A Letter from Lenora

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Dear Leonora,

How happy I was to get your letter!

You’ve raised five little ones! Oh, my! The Mama-Goddesses must be looking after me to send you to me as a pen pal!

I need help! And so does my little Jena.

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I’m so grateful that you’ve had experiences with orphans. How old were your children when you adopted them?

Had they come from hardship? Well, I suppose all orphans have, or they wouldn’t be orphans. Imagine–losing a parent, or two. Or a family. Or a whole tribe.

No wonder little Jena feels so sad and lost so often.

I fear that she experienced trauma at the camp in Turkey. She’s Pakistani, but the refugee camp where she was sent was in Turkey. I read online that a Pakistani refugee said he’d go “anywhere but Turkey.”

I guess it’s really terrible there–not just the living conditions, but the treatment.

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I try to give Jena as much comfort as I can.

She has moments when she’s content.

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When I watch her playing with her dolls, I feel hope that it’s not too late. Maybe she came to me soon enough that she’ll still be able to form healthy attachments.

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Her pediatrician says she’s healthy. She was in a hospital here in Windenburg before she came to live with me, and the parasites and infectious diseases were removed. She got all her vaccinations.

But I worry. I’m a mom now, and I guess that comes with the territory.

She has nightmares. She hardly ever sleeps the night through.

Most nights, around 2 a.m., I hear her calling me, and I come downstairs to see her with a look of fear on her face.

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I comfort her as best I can. I try to remember all the lullabies my mom sang to me. Usually, I’ll just sing some silly pop song.

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And then, we’ll spend the rest of the night eating snacks and “talking.”

I’ll tell her anything. She listens to everything! Sometimes, she’s quiet and just listens, and sometimes she “talks” and I have no idea what she’s saying.

But it’s time together, and that counts, right?

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Oh, I make it sound like it’s so hard and terrible. And sometimes it is, but then we have a golden moment and hope flames up in my chest!

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Until the difficult moments return.

She rejects me sometimes. Is that normal? I wonder if that’s a trauma response. Do you think it’s a sign of something troubling that she would push me away?

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I did something terrible the other day. I hope you don’t think I’m an awful person, Lenora. You seem so kind, that I know that even if I did mess up, you’ll help me figure it out and learn how to do better.

The other day when she pushed me away, I scolded her. “I was only trying to help!” I said. “How can I help if you push me away?”

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I felt so badly afterwards. Who knows what she’s going through, and that’s how I responded?

I let her be for a while. I went and painted. Then, she picked up a plate of mac and cheese I’d set out for her, sat on her favorite chair, and stared at me, wearing the biggest pout.

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After a few moments of silence, she said, “Ap kaisi hain. Ap kaisi hain? Kaisi hain?”

Over and over. I played along.

I sat with her and talked about the painting I was doing. I told her about space and distance and form and color. She smiled and laughed.

“Kafi weqt se ap ko dekha nehin!” she said.

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She followed me into the kitchen while I ate my snack, and she danced. So I think she forgave me. Do you think so?

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Oh, goodness! This whole letter has been about me and Jena, and I didn’t even get to your question about how Jena came to be with me! Well, I’ll have to save that for another day, for I can hear her waking up from her nap now. Time for snack, bath, and play time!

Lenora, thank you so much for finding my profile and for letting me bore you with all my new-mommy stories! I appreciate you so much already! Please tell me all about yourself, your life, and a typical day in the life of Lenora Landgraab in your next letter! 🙂

Lots of love–and a world of gratitude!

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow-Watergate 1

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Dear Mr. Watergate:

The Pen Pal Project recommended you as a match for me. I see in your profile that you have many daughters ranging in age from toddler to teen.

How perfect! With all your experience, you can give me the advice I need!

You see, I have recently become a mother to Jena.

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She is my adopted daughter.

She’s a miracle, a handful, and a mystery, all rolled into one!

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I have to admit that, as a new mother with no experience with children, especially very young children, I am at a loss more often than not!

Sometimes, we get along swimmingly!

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She’ll be happy, cheerful, and cooperative. At these times, it seems that she’s settling into her new home and that she actually likes me! I start to feel that we can be a family.

And then, something will shift. I will find her standing with the saddest look on her face.

What has happened? Why is she now sad? Will I ever be able to figure out her needs and anticipate her moods?

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I could really use your insights and advice, Mr. Watergate.

Thank you, in advance.

Sincerely,

Meadow McCumber

P.S. If you are too busy to write back, I completely understand! I know that this letter is coming out of the blue. Is it OK if I keep writing to you, though? Somehow, just sharing my worries with someone who might possibly understand, I feel better already.

Next Letter >>

Wonder 53

It was the morning after the day my life changed: the day I lost my tia and gained my son.

In the kitchen, while I was washing up the dishes, I looked across, and there sat Tanner, the same little boy I’d met at the clinic the day before, a few hours before I got the phone call from Pai that crashed my world.

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He sat there with a huge smile on his face, looking up towards the ceiling.

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“What are you thinking?” I asked as I joined him at the table.

“I was just… I don’t know how to explain,” he said.

“That’s OK,” I said. “You don’t have to. You don’t need to tell me everything.”

“No, it’s not that,” he said. “I want to say, but I don’t have words to say. You know how you feel like when you’re on your last life on level 9 and you’re really close to high score, but you’re facing about ten monsters between you and level 10, and you really should have died, but then somehow, boom-boom-boom, you get through, and the bells go off, and it’s high score, and you’re like, ‘Man! I should’ve died!’? It’s sort of like that.”

“You mean like gratitude?” I say.

“What’s gratitude?” he asks.

“It’s the feeling of thank you.”

He thinks for a minute.

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“Yeah,” he says. “Like that.”

And I felt it, too. I felt, first, that open-heart feeling of raw grief, and into that open heart rushed tenderness and after that, gratitude.

We invited Mãe and Pai to visit. I worried when I called that it was too soon. But Mãe said she didn’t want to wait. She wanted to meet her grandson.

She managed a smile when she came, and I put on my brightest face. But I could see how worn she was.

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“You know I’ve dreamed of this,” she said.

“I know, Mãe,” I replied.

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And then Tanner ran out, and Mãe smiled a real smile.

“So this is the boy,” she said.

“I’m Tanner!” he shouted.

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“What should I call you?” he asked.

I explained that I’d called my grandparents avó and avô, and he laughed. “I’ll have an avo sandwich,” he said.

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Mãe suggested, “You could call me Grandma, but my name is Mae. How about if you call me Grandmae?”

I chuckled. “You’ve got the best name!”

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“Do you play chess, Grandmae?”

She’d thought he’d never ask.

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Pai wandered up from the beach.

Minha família,” he said. He was all smiles.

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We sat and remembered my first visit to this island home, when Pai brought me here to meet meus avós.

“I was about Tanner’s age,” I reminded Pai, “and the island felt like something out of a pirate adventure book!”

“Are there really pirates here?” Tanner asked.

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I headed inside to make lunch, and when I looked back over my shoulder at them, I caught Mãe‘s face, unaware. Her eyes were puffy and tired, likely from a night of crying. She looked so drained, it hurt me to see her.

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I was about to head back to try to say something, when Pai spoke to her, and she raised her hands and smiled, full of love. I don’t know what he said.

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But I could see that it brought her back to this afternoon in the sun, with her new grandchild. I felt at that moment that I hadn’t rushed things. Or that, even if I had, it was for the best. She got to meet her grandson. Minha mãe got to spend an afternoon with the three rapazes in her life: her man, her son, and her grandson.

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After they left, Tanner went inside to play games on the computer. I took a swim, and then painted.

As I fit together the swathes of color, I thought about the composition of the whole, made of all the shades, of course, but also made of shapes that intertwine, like emotions.

I can’t be blamed if I rush things. I want to fit it all in, while I can.

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Whisper 1.29

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We’re looking for Stray Dog.

Everywhere I go, I keep an eye out for him.

Every day after school, Marigold heads up to her fort and uses her telescope to look over the fields.

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She sleeps in the tree fort, then bright and early, she’s looking again.

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We haven’t seen him yet.

“Do you think he’s OK?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah,” I say. “Me and Stray bonded pretty closely, so I can still feel him. I would feel it if something were wrong.”

“Then where is he?”

“You know what I think it is? I think he’s a free-loving roaming wanderer. Some individuals are just like that. I bet he loves living wherever he chooses, sleeping under the stars, doing what he wants.”

“Kinda like me,” Marigold says.

“Yup,” I reply. “Kinda like you, Bunny.”

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A few days later, Marigold goes to a friend’s house after school.

When she comes home, she’s so excited.

“Mom!” she says. “Guess what? They have an actual table for doing homework! They call it the dining room table. It’s so awesome.”

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“Oh, yeah,” I reply. “I guess that’s pretty standard, to have a dining room table.”

“And you know what else?” She asks, enthusiastically. “They’ve got this room they call the living room and it’s really pretty with matching lamps and even matching chairs and a rug and a TV, and we could sit there together, watching sports and talking! It was so cozy.”

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“It sounds like a nice house,” I say.

“It is,” she replies. “It’s really pretty.”

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I start thinking about how much money we have in savings. We’ve got a bit of a cushion. I’ve been saving it up for Marigold’s college and so that, in case anything happens to me, she’ll have something to fall back on. I’ve talked to Mara Nix, and she’s agreed that, if I go before Marigold is old enough to live on her own, she’ll come and take care of her, so the savings is for that. It’s hard to think about, but I figure I’d better face it and be prepared. Maybe that way, it won’t happen.

Anyway, all this calculating of our savings is so that I can decide if we have enough to buy a real couch and a dining room table. Marigold seemed so excited about her friend’s house, and I want her to feel like she has everything she needs at home, too. Not everybody feels that cheap college-student decor is comfortable, I remember.

The next morning, Marigold asks the mailman if he’s seen Stray Dog.

“No,” he replies. “My route’s just here in the north bend. But I walk all over, and I haven’t seen him.”

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Marigold looks sad when she comes in.

“Bunny,” I say, “I’ve been thinking. Would you like us to fix up the house a little? We can clean up all the spray paint on the walls, maybe get new wallpaper, buy a regular dining room table and a couch and a chair that matches. Would you like that?”

“No,” she says. “What for? I like our house how it is. You wouldn’t wipe off your art, would you? I love it!”

“Really?” I ask. “But I thought you liked your friend’s house.”

“I do,” she says. “For them. But I like our house for us.”

“Then why are you sad?”

“I want a puppy.”

A few days later, while Marigold is doing some research for a class project on the computer, I surprise her.

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While she was at school, I found out that the shelter had a young dog available for adoption, and I arranged for them to bring him over that afternoon.

“Look, Mom,” she says while he sleeps on the floor. “He’s got a tail like Stray Dog.”

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He looks a lot like Stray Dog, only his coat is lighter.

I asked when I called to adopt him if they knew his sire and dam. They said they knew the mother, and they suspected that the father was a gray stray with a borzoi tail.

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We think maybe Zoey is Stray Dog’s pup.

“Mom! I love him!” Marigold laughs. “He’s our own Zoey dog!”

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Zoey loves it here. He settled in right away, sleeping on the couch, on my bed, on the floor, and he’s been doing a great job eating the beef stew I fix for him.

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That evening, when I’m standing outside watching the mist settle over the meadow, Marigold rushes out to me.

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“Thanks, Mom,” she says. “I have everything now.”

I know just how she feels.

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Whisper 1.23

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Marigold is my life. I know moms aren’t supposed to say that–we’re supposed to keep our own independence and not live through our kids and be nurturing and wise and also give them plenty of space for individuation. Yeah, I get all that.

But what I mean is that I am coming alive in a new way through Marigold, and all the everyday rhythms of my life revolve around her. We form our own universe, and I am falling in love like never before.

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Her goofy little face, and those eyes that make me melt!

I’m lucky that she’s so good-natured and easy-going because it would be so easy to spoil her. But she’s spoil-proof.

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I’d always heard that it was hard to take care of little kids, that they cried and fussed and threw tantrums.

But Marigold is so sweet. She spends much of the day playing with Riley, this funny little rag doll that we received from a family that has a tradition of sending dolls and toys to adopted kids.

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Growing up here in Moonlight Falls, Marigold takes delight in our gloomy weather. I grew up in the sunshine, so it’s easy for me to start feeling hemmed in after thirty days of straight rain. But Marigold loves rainshowers.

When I took her for a walk in the pouring down rain, she laughed and giggled and reached out to grab the raindrops.

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She’s so smart. She learned to walk and use the potty quickly. It took her a little longer to learn to talk. Her first words were “shippy saw-saw.” I know she’s really saying “chips and salsa.”

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We pass the winter reading together, cozy inside as the cold world around us falls away.

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“Which one’s different?” I ask her when we read the shape book. She laughs and points to the object that doesn’t fit the pattern.

“Yay! Differ!” she says. It’s her favorite book.

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When Dante drops by, I tell him all about her progress, the new words she’s saying, what she’s learning, the funny things she does.

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“She’s a fantastic kid!” Dante says. “I’ll tell you a secret. I think she looks like you and me. You know, like a mix of both of us.”

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When Dante says that, it triggers something inside of me.

He’s all smiles, but I’m tuning into my heart, and I feel a dream curl up and die.

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I’d been fine with adopting. It seemed like what I wanted, given my situation–like it was a way for me to create a family.

But what Dante said turned my attention to that dream that moms pass on to their little girls. “Some day, you’ll meet a man you love, and you and he will make a child that is the perfect blend of both of you.”

I’d never asked for that dream, but I’d taken it on all the same, and I’d held it sacred in a secret part of my heart.

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It came as part of a whole packet of dreams. A husband who was there every day, contributing to the income, helping around the house, keeping me warm at night. A home full of children with his eyes, my smile, his walk, my laugh.

Maybe I didn’t choose that dream, but it was part of me nonetheless, and facing now the truth that this dream would never be my life hurt.

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I love my life. I adore Marigold. That bunny is my sunshine and my life. I love Dante–I’ve tried, but I can’t love anyone else.

And this life, in its particulars, is so very different from the ideal that had been passed down to me, the ideal that, without even realizing it, I’d staked my future happiness on. And now, I have to surrender and release.

Let go, and see what’s there instead.

I watch that dream wilt, curl, and crumble in black powder. Maybe a breeze will blow through me and carry that black dust out, and I’ll be free inside to look at the mystery and miracle of this life I have which I could never have dreamed up, but which contains so much goodness and wonder.

But before that happens, I need to say goodbye to the legacy of dreams my mother gave me.

Let go. Some realities are more magical than dreams.

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Whisper 1.22

I arrive home late at night to find Dante and Martin hanging out in the living room.

“Cathy!” says Martin. “We missed you! Glad you made it back safe and sound.”

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After Martin leaves, Dante and I sit together on the love seat.

“Was it wonderful?” he asks.

“It was. I missed you.”

“So, you’re a world traveler. What’s next? Asia?”

“I don’t know. I like it here.” I tell him that I’ve been reflecting on how quickly time passes. Soon I’ll be old, too.

“Time’s stopped for you,” I say. “You’re not getting older. Will you still like me when I’m stooped and gray?”

He laughs. “You heard the love machine, all those years ago. Our love lasts, sweet.”

I tell him that it feels strange to think of how quickly life goes, not knowing exactly what I want or how to get it.

“I’ve got a feeling you want family, something normal,” he says. “Is that it?”

“I don’t know,” I confess.

“I can’t give you a child. Or at least not a normal one. I wish I could. I really think you should adopt.”

“A cat?”

“A kid.”

“But then I’d be a mom.”

“You’d be a great mom,” he says. “And I’d love the child like it was mine. Maybe, through time, it kinda could be. In spirit, at least.”

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So I pick up the phone the next day and call the social worker. He tells me they’ll do the background check and then put my name on the list.

“Don’t get too excited,” he says. “These things usually take time.”

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But this time, it doesn’t take time! Two days later, I get a call saying they’ve got a child who needs immediate placement, and a few hours later, this man who looks like a kid himself drops by. At first, I think I’m adopting him. He looks like he’d make a great son. But then I see he’s carrying a basket, which he sets down with a smile.

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And then he’s gone, and I’m lifting a little bunny in a balaclava out of the basket.

It’s my daughter, Marigold.

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And the moment she looks in my eyes, I melt.

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I’m halfway panicked and halfway thrilled and two-thirds delighted and one third petrified. What have I done? And what is this miracle? And will life ever be the same?

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And the answer, of course, is no. This little bunny has changed my world.

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It’s the coldest night of the year so far. All the plants in my garden will be snipped by frost. Summer is long forgotten.

But in my heart, a sun rises and shines so bright. I think I will never be cold again.

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